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Massachusetts High Court Says Attaching GPS Unit to Another’s Car Can Constitute Criminal Harassment

With ever-increasing technological advances, it is quite possible for someone to be accused of a crime which did not exist just a few years ago. As any Cape Cod criminal defense attorney can confirm, it is also true that there many new ways for “old” crimes to be committed.

For example, the crime of criminal harassment (sometimes referred to as “stalking”) is not necessarily a new offense, but, with modern technology, there are now many more ways in which someone might find themselves accused of violating the law with respect to this crime.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the defendant was charged with two counts of criminal harassment in violation of Massachusetts General Laws ch. 265, § 43A due to his alleged use of global positioning system (GPS) devices to track the movements of two particular individuals. The defendant and the victims had never met in person, but the defendant had allegedly placed GPS devices on the underside of each of their victims’ vehicles, allowing him to track their movements. Although the defendant’s motivation was not completely known, he claimed that his actions were in light with him “guarding the hen house.”

The trial court ruled that the Commonwealth’s complaint did not allege the requisite facts to support a charge of criminal harassment. The Commonwealth appealed, and the supreme judicial court transferred the case from the intermediate appellate court on its own initiative.

Holding of the Court

The supreme judicial court reversed the trial court’s order dismissing the Commonwealth’s charges. Acknowledging that, “as technology has advanced, the tools that people can use to harass victims have increased,” the higher court agreed with the Commonwealth that the defendant’s behavior was sufficient to satisfy the “three acts” requirement for a viable charge under the Massachusetts criminal harassment statute. In so holding, the court noted that it’s holding was specific to the facts at hand and that, in similar cases, the outcome might be different.

This case is interesting not only from a criminal law standpoint but also from the perspective of personal injury litigation. Query how relatively easy it would be for a detective or insurance company representative to “spy” on an injured person had the court decided that placing a GPS unit on a stranger’s car was acceptable under the law. Of course, even without GPS surveillance, those who strive to limit or avoid payouts in negligence cases already have a great many tools at their disposal – surveillance video from places of business that a litigant might frequent and social media postings, just to name a few.

Consult a Cape Cod Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you have been accused of criminal harassment or another misdemeanor or felony under Massachusetts law, you need to talk to an experienced Cape Cod criminal defense attorney. For an appointment to discuss your situation with a member of our staff, please call the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, at 888-262-6664 and schedule an appointment at your earliest convenience.

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