TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey can’t force sex offenders who were convicted before a GPS monitoring program was signed into law to wear the tracking devices, a divided state Supreme Court ruled.

The court ruled in the case of George Riley of Eatontown, who served more than 20 years in prison for attempted sexual assault of a minor in 1986. While he was incarcerated, the state passed the Sex Offender Monitoring Act in 2007, which requires 24-hour GPS monitoring for sex offenders determined to be high risk.

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When 76-year-old Riley was released from prison in 2009, he was not subject to any form of parole supervision, based on New Jersey law at the time of his conviction. He was, however, subject to Internet registration and community notification requirements under Megan’s Law.

The State Parole Board ordered Riley to wear the GPS device in 2009, arguing its decision was based on the classification of Riley as a Tier 3, or highest-level, sex offender under Megan’s Law. In his appeal, Riley argued that the GPS monitoring was actually based on his 1986 conviction and that it amounted to additional punishment imposed after his sentence was completed, a violation of state and federal laws.

The parole board rejected the appeal, but a three-judge appeals court later sided with Riley and reversed the GPS requirement.

In a 4-3 decision released Monday, the Supreme Court also agreed with Riley, with Justice Barry Albin writing that “SOMA is essentially parole supervision for life by another name” and that it violated constitutional prohibitions on punishment applied retroactively. Albin noted that at Riley’s Megan’s Law hearing, “the court made no independent assessment of Riley’s current dangerousness unrelated to his prior convictions.”

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Chief Justice Stuart Rabner and Justices Anne Patterson and Faustino Fernandez-Vina dissented.

It wasn’t clear how many people currently under GPS monitoring would be affected by the decision. Parole Board executive director David Thomas didn’t immediately return an email Tuesday seeking comment.

The decision “is another in a line of decisions in which the judiciary has been asked to consider the reach of new technologies in a constitutional setting,” said Peter Verniero, a former state attorney general and Supreme Court justice currently in private practice. “That the justices were divided perhaps reflects the division within society itself over the government’s use of advanced technologies in a law enforcement context.”

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