COLUMBIA — The state’s highest court ruled Wednesday that the punishment was too harsh for a low-risk sex offender who had been ordered to undergo satellite monitoring for life after violating parole and not given a chance for a hearing on the decision.
South Carolina’s Supreme Court ordered a lower court to reconsider the punishment for Jennifer Dykes, saying her constitutional
rights had been violated because she had not been allowed to appeal the decision to track her every move with an ankle bracelet or other device.
But the justices stressed that they don’t think all satellite monitoring of sex offenders is unconstitutional or that the rights of
high-risk offenders who are monitored for life are being violated.
Exactly how the ruling will affect other sex offenders was unclear.
Dykes, 31, was ruled to be a sex offender after she was convicted of a lewd act on a child charge stemming from her relationship
with a 14-year-old girl in Greenville County several years ago.
She was found to be at low risk to abuse a child again.
After violating her probation by drinking alcohol, continuing a relationship with a convicted felon she met while behind bars and rescheduling too many appointments for sex offender counseling, Dykes’ probation was revoked, according to court documents.
That revocation meant authorities could seek lifetime satellite monitoring for Dykes.
State law requires lifetime monitoring without a chance to appeal for just two crimes – lewd act and first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor.
Most other crimes that land someone on the sex offender registry give an offender a chance to appeal after 10 years.
The justices ruled the punishment was too severe, especially because Dykes had no chance to request a hearing to prove she was no longer so dangerous that the state needed to know where she was at every moment.
The rules also kept her from traveling out of South Carolina without permission, and banned overnight trips except in emergency cases, and those had to be approved by a regional director at the Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services.
“While Dykes’ status as a convicted felon may impair her rights to some degree, we do not believe the fact that she stands convicted of a sex crime, by itself, is sufficient to warrant lifetime continuous government tracking of her location,” Associate Justice Kaye Hearn wrote in her opinion.
The justices also said the split of which offenses got lifetime monitoring without an appeal, and the ones where offenders could ask to be taken off the monitoring for 10 years made the punishment too arbitrary.
Dykes’ attorney did not return a message seeking comment. A spokesman for Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services said the agency’s lawyers were reviewing the ruling.
During their arguments before the justices in September, lawyers for the state argued that being listed on the sex offender registry was more of a violation of privacy than monitoring because an offender’s picture, a full description, including tattoos and scars, and address are publicly listed, while the data collected during monitoring is kept private.
But the justices said that information could be used against her in a much more harmful way than the public details on the sex offender registry.
“This sort of constant surveillance reveals the intimate details of her private life by compiling a complete picture of her movements in public and in private that tells the story of how she lives her life, information not available through the registry,” Hearn wrote.
Three justices signed a concurring opinion, agreeing with the result of the case, but finding Hearn went too far in asserting Dykes’ constitutional rights as a convicted sex offender.