State v. Griffin, 2022-NCCOA-681, ___ N.C. App. ___ (Oct. 18, 2022)

In this case, arising from a Craven County court order imposing satellite-based monitoring (“SBM”) on defendant after his Alford plea to first-degree sex offense with a child, the Court of Appeals considered for the third time whether the imposition of a thirty-year term of SBM represented a violation of defendant’s rights under the Fourth Amendment. After reviewing applicable precedent from the North Carolina Supreme Court, the court affirmed the trial court’s SBM order.

This opinion is the third to be issued by the Court of Appeals in this matter, following a series of remands due to evolving caselaw regarding the constitutionality of SBM. In a 2018 opinion the court overruled the trial court’s imposition of SBM, following the similar case State v. Grady, 259 N.C. App. 664 (2018). The path of the Griffin and Grady matters remained intertwined as the North Carolina Supreme Court released State v. Grady, 372 N.C. 509 (2019), creating a new three-factor test for the imposition of SBM. The Griffin matter was remanded to the court, which issued a second opinion in 2020, again overturning the SBM order. By the time the matter reached the supreme court a second time, it had already issued State v. Hilton, 378 N.C. 692 (2021), and State v. Strudwick, 379 N.C. 94 (2021), and the General Assembly had passed several revisions to the SBM laws. As a result, the supreme court remanded a third time for consideration of the applicable caselaw and statutory changes.

In the current opinion, the court applied the three-part test from Hilton and Strudwick, considering (1) the State’s interest in imposing SBM, (2) defendant’s privacy interests, and (3) the level of intrusion SBM represents into defendant’s privacy interests. Exploring (1), the court noted that the legitimacy of the State’s interest in preventing future sex crimes was clear from legislative enactment of the program and weighed in favor of imposing SBM. Considering (2), the court explained that defendant’s status as a sex offender supported a more limited scope of privacy than the general public, holding that since “[d]efendant’s liberty and privacy interests are limited for the protection of children particularly, and [] [d]efendant was convicted of sexually abusing a minor . . . his privacy rights are appreciably diminished for purposes of analyzing SBM’s reasonableness.” Slip Op. at 15. When considering intrusiveness under (3), the court compared the SBM device defendant must wear to the devices in Hilton and Strudwick, where the supreme court held they were “more inconvenient than intrusive.” Id. at 16, quoting Hilton. Finally the court noted that the recent changes to the SBM program meant that defendant could appeal to have his SBM term capped at ten years, drastically reducing the intrusiveness of the original order.