Mass. Crim. Dig.: Commonwealth v. Guzman

Commonwealth v. Guzman, 469 Mass. 492 (2014)

I. Issues

There are three main issues in this case:

  1. Whether the imposition of the Global Positioning System (“GPS”) is mandatory under chapter 265, section 47 of the Massachusetts General Laws;
  2. Whether the statutory mandate violates substantive and procedural due process under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Articles 1, 10, 11, and 12 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights; and
  3. Whether the statutory mandate constitutes unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article Fourteen under the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.

II. Facts

Jose A. Guzman (“Guzman”) was indicted on August 15, 2011, for dissemination or possession of obscene matter and dissemination of visual material depicting a child in a state of nudity or sexual conduct. The defendant, Guzman, acquired child pornography through LimeWire, an internet-based file sharing system. The defendant’s default settings allowed other users to access his files, thus satisfying the dissemination requirement. The defendant plead guilty to the charges. The Commonwealth’s sentencing memorandum proposed that the defendant should be sentenced to five years incarceration with ten years probation. Whether he should wear a GPS monitoring device during the probation period was considered during his plea colloquy. The superior court judge sentenced the defendant to one year of incarceration and a five year probationary period without a GPS.

III. Procedural History

The Commonwealth filed a motion for another hearing and argued that the inclusion of GPS during probation for dissemination of visual material depicting a child in a state of nudity or sexual conduct was not discretionary, but mandatory. The judge again declined to impose the GPS system, reasoning that the statute was “‘problematic’ for its failure to distinguish between contact sex offenders and noncontact offenders.”

The Commonwealth then filed a petition for relief requesting a single justice to vacate the defendant’s sentence and remand it further. The defendant filed a motion against the petition for relief and the single justice reserved and reported the case to the full court.

IV. Analysis

A. The GPS Monitoring Device Is Mandatory Under Chapter 265, Section 47 of the Massachusetts General Laws

The Court found that to determine whether a statute is mandatory, they needed to first look at the plain language of the statute. In doing so, the Court quoted the statute: “Any person who is placed on probation for any offense listed within the definition of ‘sex offense’ . . . shall, as a requirement of any term of probation wear a global positioning system device.” The Court reasoned “shall” means a mandatory obligation.

With this determination the Court concluded that the superior court sentencing judge was wrong in not adding the GPS to the sentence of the defendant. There is no discretion to decide whether a GPS should apply in certain circumstances. Therefore, GPS during probation is a mandatory part of sentencing.

B. Constitutional Arguments
1. The Statutory Mandate for the GPS Does Not Violate Procedural or Substantive Due Process

The Court then looked at the defendant’s constitutional arguments. First, the defendant argued that the mandatory nature of imposing the GPS device violated the defendant’s substantive and procedural due process rights. The defendant further argued analysis of the statute should inquire into whether the condition of probation is “reasonably related” to the goals of sentencing and probation.

However, the Court determined that because the statute mandatorily required the GPS, the appropriate test was “rational basis.” The Court previously held that the “[l]egislature has great latitude to . . . prescribe penalties to vindicate the legitimate interests of society.” In looking at the rational basis test, the Court determined that the legislature has permissible objectives concerning criminal sentencing—namely deterrence, isolation, incapacitation, retribution, moral reinforcement, reformation, and rehabilitation. There is a great danger of recidivism with sex offenders and the legislature determined that the risk of repetition might be deterred by GPS monitoring.

Furthermore, the Court noted the legislature’s floor debate discussing this issue and that the purview of the legislature is to determine whether this is appropriate for the crime. The Court is not in the position to legislate from the bench, nor place their opinion above what the legislature has already determined necessary through their process. The distinguishing factor between contact and noncontact had not been made by the legislature. The legislature is in the best place to determine what punishment fits the crime; therefore whether the sex offense crime was contact or noncontact has no bearing.

The Court held that there was no violation of the defendant’s substantive or procedural due process rights. The statute passed the appropriate “rational basis test” because the legislature’s determination of the punishment was rationally related to its purpose in deterrence.

2. The Record Does Not Support a Finding for the Search and Seizure Argument

The Court declined to consider the constitutional issue of the reasonableness of a search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article Fourteen of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. There was no issue raised in the underlying proceedings so the record was lacking. The Court stated “neither the Commonwealth nor the defendant presented evidence concerning the details of the GPS monitoring to which the defendant is subject.” The determination of reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment is incredibly fact-specific and with no record to explain those facts the Court declined to rule on that issue.

V. Conclusion

In conclusion, the Court held that the mandate in chapter 265, section 47 of the Massachusetts General Laws to place a GPS device on a person convicted of a sex offense crime is mandatory, and not open for discretion by a sentencing judge. The defendant’s substantive and procedural due process rights were not violated by the statute’s mandate because the punishment of the GPS system was rationally related to the legislature’s objectives of deterrence. The Court refused to rule on the Fourth Amendment search and seizure argument because the record was lacking facts for them to make that determination.

Contributing Editor: Wendy Hansen

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