Pennsylvania v. Scott, 524 U.S. 357 (1998)

2012-08-14 08:49:15

In a case with significant implications for law enforcement and corrections personnel, the Supreme Court held that the exclusionary rule does not apply in parole revocation hearings. Scott was on parole after serving ten years in prison. Five months after his release, probation officers received information that he had weapons in his possession, which would constitute a violation of the terms of his parole. Probation officers searched Scott’s residence without probable cause or a warrant and found several weapons.

At his parole revocation hearing Scott sought to have the weapons excluded as the product of an unlawful search. The parole board and the district court refused, but the state court of appeals ordered the evidence excluded. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, however, ordered the weapons suppressed, on the ground that the exclusionary rule should apply in parole revocation hearings whenever probation officers conduct searches of known parolees without at least ‘‘reasonable suspicion’’ of criminal activity. Application of the exclusionary rule in these cases, the court felt, would deter probation officers from engaging in illegal searches.

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the state court and held that the exclusionary rule does not apply to parole revocation hearings. The majority opinion written by Justice Thomas stressed the Court’s traditional reluctance to extend the judicially created remedy to nontrial proceedings and the limited deterrent value of the rule in such proceedings. The Court felt suppression would have only a minimal deterrent effect on parole officers, while having the effect of turning revocation hearings into minitrials. The Court also noted that applying the exclusionary rule to parole revocation hearings would unnecessarily hamper the state’s legitimate interest in ensuring parolees do not violate the terms of their parole.

The dissent argued that the effect of the ruling was to leave probation officers with virtually unchecked power to interfere in the lives of parolees, absent any individualized suspicion of wrongdoing. Nothing in the decision limits it to parole revocation hearings, so it is likely that the Court would hold similarly regarding probation revocation hearings. This is a significant decision because more than three million people are currently on probation or parole, all of whom potentially face revocation hearings.


References and Further Reading

  • Hemmens, Craig, Katherine Bennett, and Rolando V. del Carmen. ‘‘The Exclusionary Rule and Parole Revocation Hearings: The Supreme Court Says No.’’ Perspectives 23 (1999): 36–42.

See also Exclusionary Rule; Search (General Definition); Warrantless Searches