The state’s highest court sharply curtailed the use of GPS ankle bracelets on Monday, while the federal judicial system shut down its Springfield courthouse — both in response to growing concerns about the spread of COVID-19.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court banned the use of monitoring devices during pretrial release or probation “unless a judge finds that there is a compelling public safety need for GPS monitoring to protect a victim, a witness, a category of persons (e.g., children), or the general public,’’ according to the court’s order.
A judge’s order for a GPS device will only be considered valid, according to the SJC, if it includes an exclusion zone — a specified area that must be avoided — or an inclusion zone, such as a home the person cannot leave.
The order, signed by Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants and all six associate justices, notes that it’s impossible for Probation Department personnel to attach an ankle monitor without coming into close contact with the person being monitored.
Such contact, the justices write, is incompatible with recommendations from public health officials that call for “social distancing’’ to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has infected at least 777 state residents and killed nine, according to the latest tally released Monday afternoon.
Separately, F. Dennis Saylor IV, chief judge for the US District Court for Massachusetts, ordered its Springfield courthouse closed and all operations ceased after an employee in the clerk’s office there “reported symptoms consistent with COVID-19.’’
Saylor instructed the clerk to work with employees who may have been exposed “to ensure their ongoing health and safety and to try to maintain continuity of operations to the extent it is reasonable and safe to do so.’’
Earlier this month, the Massachusetts court system closed its 99 courthouses to the public, the SJC shut down all but emergency business for all seven Trial Court departments, and federal courts postponed jury trials until late April.