ILLEGAL SEARCHES OF PEOPLE ON PROBATION
The Georgia Supreme Court has held that the exclusionary rule which protects a defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights against illegal searches and seizures does not apply during probation revocation hearings. State v. Thackston, S10G1337. The Supreme Court decision will allow for admission of evidence from illegal searches of people on probation to be admitted during their probation revocation hearing.
In Thackston, the defendant was arrested for drug related offenses in Paulding County. At the time the defendant was on probation in Douglas County. The Douglas County court issued a probation warrant for his arrest based upon the new Paulding County charges. Thackston filed a motion to suppress in Paulding County arguing that the seizure of the drugs that formed the basis of his arrest was unconstitutional. His motion was granted and the Paulding County charges were dismissed. Thackston then filed a similar motion in the Douglas County probation revocation case. The probation court denied the motion to suppress and revoked Thackston’s probation. Thackston appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals reversed the judge’s ruling denying the motion to suppress. The case then was appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court decided that the exclusionary rule which excludes evidence illegally seized does not apply to probation revocation proceedings. The Supreme Court stated, “In deciding when to extend the exclusionary rule to contexts other than criminal trials, the United States Supreme Court has adopted a balancing test to weigh the likelihood of deterrence against the costs of withholding information in the truth-seeking process. Illinois v. Krull, 480 U. S. 340,347-348 (107 SC 1160, 94 LE2d 364) (1987). See State v. Young, 234 Ga. 488, 491 (216 SE2d 586) (1975).” The Court noted that the purpose of a probation revocation hearing is “determine whether the probationer has complied with the conditions of his probation and the outcome of which significantly informs the State whether the probationer is ready or capable of rehabilitation by integration into society.” According to the Court, the remedial purposes of the probation system require consideration of all reliable, relevant evidence. The Court stated that it found “it extremely important to the administration of our state probation system that all reliable evidence relevant to the probationer’s conduct be available during revocation proceedings.” According to the Supreme Court, the deterrence benefits (police will not violate people’s rights for fear that the evidence will be thrown out) do not outweigh the costs to the truth-seeking purpose of the probation system. A police officer knows that if he conducts an illegal search, it will hurt the prosecutor’s ability to get a conviction during the criminal trial. The Court maintained that application of the rule during criminal trials therefore “already provides significant deterrence of unconstitutional searches.” Excluding evidence of illegal searches in probation revocation hearings would provide only minimal additional deterrence. According to the Court, a police officer does not conduct a search thinking of whether the evidence will be admitted during a probation revocation.
Justice Benham wrote a dissent pointing to numerous cases in which the Fourth Amendment rights were applied to people on probation. “Griffin v. Wisconsin, 483 U.S. 868, 873 (107 SC 3164, 97 LE2d 709) (1987) (“A probationer’s home, like anyone else’s, is protected by the Fourth Amendment’s requirement that searches be ‘reasonable.’”); Allen v. State, 258 Ga. 424, 424 (369 SE2d 909) (1988) (“[Appellant] argues that the Fourth Amendment applies to probationers as well as other citizens. He is correct.”); Hunter v. State, 139 Ga. App. 676, 678 (229 SE2d 505) (1976) (“The right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures extends to all persons, including probationers.”).” Justice Benham noted that in addition to serving a deterrence purpose, the exclusionary rule also serves the purpose of judicial integrity by enforcing rules of law. According to Justice Benham, “the uniform application of established rules of law both within and outside the context of criminal trial proceedings engenders not only the public’s faith and trust in our system of justice, but also respect for and cooperation with the law.”