Brief Reports

By Casey, Pamela | Violence and Victims, January 1, 1987 | Go to article overview

Brief Reports


Casey, Pamela, Violence and Victims


In Wolfv. Colorado, 388 U.S. 25 (1949), the United States Supreme Court held that the Constitution's Fourth Amendment guarantees against arbitrary intrusion by the police are applicable to the states but that these guarantees did not include the Exclusionary Rule. The Exclusionary Rule, developed decades earlier in Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383 (1914), prohibits the use of illegally seized evidence in a federal prosecution. The rule's intent is to deter police from conducting illegal searches. Several years after Wolf, the Court held in Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961) that the Exclusionary Rule is an essential ingredient of the right to privacy and is applicable to the states.

The controversy that surrounds the Exclusionary Rule was evident during the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearings on the nomination of U.S. Circuit Judge Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court. A coalition of several law enforcement associations, said to represent approximately 400,000 law enforcement officers nationwide, testified in behalf of Judge Bork, who favors an examination of the Exclusionary Rule's effectiveness in deterring police misconduct (Staff, 1987).

The Exclusionary Rule is applied in cases of unreasonable searches. According to the Fourth Amendment, a reasonable search is conducted pursuant to a warrant based on probable cause. Except in special cases, law enforcement officials are required to abide by this definition of a reasonable search. However, the Court has been less stringent regarding searches by officials other than police officers. The two cases that will be described indicate the Court's willingness to expand its position on what constitutes a reasonable search.

SELECTED COURT RULINGS

Warrantless search of probationer's home is valid. Griffin v. Wisconsin, 41 Grim. L. Rep. (BNA) 3424 (U.S. Jun. 26, 1987).

In Wisconsin, the state Department of Health and Social Services has legal custody of individuals placed on probation. On April 5, 1983, Micheal Lew, the supervisor of petitioner Joseph G. Griffin's probation officer, received information suggesting that Griffin had contraband in his apartment. Lew received the information by telephone from a detective on the Beloit Police Department. Because Griffin's probation officer was in a meeting when the information was received, Lew asked another probation officer to accompany him and three plainclothes police officers to Griffin's apartment. When they arrived, the probation officers informed Griffin that they were there to search his home. During the search, conducted only by the probation officers, a handgun was found.

During his trial, Griffin moved to suppress the evidence seized during the search. The trial court held that the evidence was admissible because no warrant was necessary and the search was reasonable. Griffin was sentenced to 2 years of imprisonment.

Both the Wisconsin Court of Appeals and the Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's decision. The Wisconsin Supreme Court held that any search of a probationer's home is lawful if there are "reasonable grounds" to believe contraband will be found. In this case, the information provided by the police officer satisfied the "reasonable grounds" requirement.

The United States Supreme Court affirmed the decision. The Court held that the search was reasonable because it was conducted pursuant to a probation department regulation that satisfied the Fourth Amendment's reasonableness requirement. Because the validity of the probation department's search regulation was upheld, the Court found it "unnecessary to embrace a new principle of law, as the Wisconsin court evidently did, that any search of a probationer's home by a probation officer satisfies the Fourth Amendment as long as the information possessed by the officer satisfies a federal 'reasonable grounds' standard" (p. 3425).

Speaking for the majority, Justice Scalia argued that probation supervision presents "special needs" that may allow the state to depart from the usual warrant and probable cause requirements provided by the Fourth Amendment. …

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