GPS Monitoring Bill Signed into Law in D.C.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks at the Wilson Building in Northwest to announce her signing of legislation that makes it a criminal offense for persons on probation or parole to tamper with GPS monitoring devices.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks at the Wilson Building in Northwest to announce her signing of legislation that makes it a criminal offense for persons on probation or parole to tamper with GPS monitoring devices.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser signed legislation Wednesday that makes it a criminal offense for persons on probation or parole to tamper with GPS monitoring devices.

The legislation, which Bowser proposed and is part of her “Safer Stronger DC” initiative, closes a critical loophole that allowed individuals on supervised release who were ordered to wear electronic monitoring devices to go unpunished after removing, disabling or tampering with the device.

“Last year, the District of Columbia saw significant decreases in the numbers of homicides, burglaries and robberies. Violent and property crimes are down in our first two years in office, but we can and must do better,” said Bowser, who was accompanied at the bill-signing by U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Channing Phillips, city Attorney General Karl Racine, D.C. Council members Charles Allen (Ward 6) and Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5) and interim police Chief Peter Newsham.

“This legislation is a strong step to remedy a critical shortcoming in our criminal justice system,” Bowser said. “In 2017, we will continue to use all available tools to create a safer, stronger DC. Our residents and visitors deserve nothing less.”

Under the new law, any agency that can order a person on supervised release to wear a GPS monitoring device — such as the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, the Pretrial Services Agency or the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services — can enforce attempts at tampering with the device. Individuals found guilty of tampering with their GPS monitoring devices can face up to six months in jail.

GPS monitoring devices are a significant tool in monitoring compliance by persons on supervised release. They can also deter re-offending and aid law enforcement in criminal investigations.

Law enforcement agencies have been able to make arrests in violent crimes where participants were wearing a GPS monitoring device while committing the crime, such as the 2013 drive-by shooting on North Capitol Street in which 12 people were wounded.

Under previous District law, anyone under supervised release, such as an individual on release pending trial, probation, or parole, who was ordered by a supervision agency to wear a GPS device should have been held criminally responsible for tampering with the device, including attempting to remove it, failure to charge it or trying to mask its signal.

However, pursuant to a decision by the Court of Appeals, the law was interpreted to mean that prosecutions could only be done when the individual was ordered to wear a GPS device by the U.S. Parole Commission or a judge.