Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole v. Scott
Decided on June 22, 1998; 524 US 357


A. Issues Discussed: Criminal Justice (4th Amendment)

B. Legal Question Presented:

Does the federal exclusionary rule, which prohibits the introduction of evidence seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable search and seizure, apply to parole revocation hearings?


A. Background:

In granting Keith M. Scott (respondent) parole, the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole (petitioner) stipulated that he refrain from owning or possessing weapons. When officers learned that Scott could be in possession of weapons, they searched his home and found a bow and arrow and firearms. Despite objecting at his parole violation hearing that the search was unconstitutional, the seized weapons were admitted as evidence and Scott was ultimately recommitted. On appeal, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania affirmed Scott's challenge to the search and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court sustained the lower court's decision in respondent's favor. The US Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether the Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule applies to parole revocation proceedings.

B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
Leonard N. Sosnov argued the cause for the respondent. D. Michael Fisher argued the cause for the petitioner.
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
Opposing Side
Tracey Maclin, Steven R. Shapiro, Stefan Presser, and Lisa B. Kemler filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. as amici curiae urging affirmance.
Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the State of Ohio et al. by Betty D. Montgomery, Attorney General of Ohio, Jeffrey S. Sutton, State Solicitor, and Todd R. Marti, Assistant Attorney General, by John M. Ferren, Corporation Counsel of the District of Columbia, and by the Attorneys General for their respective States as follows:

Grant Woods of Arizona, M. Jane Brady of Delaware, Robert Butterworth of Florida, Margery S. Bronster of Hawaii, Alan G. Lance of Idaho, Jeff Modisett of Indiana, Tom Miller of Iowa, Carla J. Stovall of Kansas, Richard P. Ieyoub of Louisiana, Andrew Ketterer of Maine, J. Joseph Curran, Jr., of Maryland, Scott Harshbarger of Massachusetts, Frank J. Kelley of Michigan, Hubert H. Humphrey III of Minnesota, Mike Moore of Mississippi, Joseph P. Mazurek of Montana, Don Stenberg of Nebraska, Frankie Sue Del Papa of Nevada, Philip T. McLaughlin of New Hampshire, Peter Verniero of New Jersey, Dennis C. Vacco of New York, Michael F. Easley of North Carolina, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Drew Edmondson of Oklahoma, Hardy Myers of Oregon, Jeffrey B. Pine of Rhode Island, Mark Barnett of South Dakota, John Knox Walkup of Tennessee, Jan Graham of Utah, Wallace J. Malley of Vermont, and William U Hill of Wyoming; for Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, Inc., et al. by Wayne W Schmidt, James P. Manak, Richard M. Weintraub, and Bernard J. Farber; for the Center for the Community Interest by Andrew N Vollmer and Roger L. Conner; and for the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation by Kent S. Scheidegger.

"The federal exclusionary rule does not bar the introduction at parole revocation hearings of evidence seized in violation of parolees' Fourth Amendment rights. The State's use of such evidence does not itself violate the Constitution... Rather, a violation is 'fully accomplished' by the illegal search or seizure, and no exclusion of evidence can cure the invasion of rights the defendant has already suffered... The exclusionary rule is instead a judicially created means of deterring illegal searches and seizures... As such, it does not proscribe the introduction of illegally seized evidence in all proceedings or against all persons... but applies only in contexts where its remedial objectives are thought most efficaciously served. Moreover, because the rule is prudential rather than constitutionally mandated, it applies only where its deterrence benefits outweigh the substantial social costs inherent in precluding consideration of reliable probative evidence...

Recognizing these costs, the Court has repeatedly declined to extend the rule to proceedings other than criminal trials. It again declines to do so here. The social costs of allowing convicted criminals who violate their parole to remain at large are particularly high, and are compounded by the fact that parolees (particularly those who have already committed parole violations) are more likely to commit future crimes than are average citizens... Application of the exclusionary rule, moreover, would be incompatible with the traditionally flexible, nonadversarial, administrative procedures of parole revocation... in that it would require extensive litigation to determine whether particular evidence must be excluded... The rule would provide only minimal deterrence benefits in this context, because its application in criminal trials already provides significant deterrence of unconstitutional searches...

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court's special rule for situations in which the searching officer knows his subject is a parolee is rejected because this Court has never suggested that the exclusionary rule must apply in every circumstance in which it might provide marginal deterrence; because such a piecemeal approach would add an additional layer of collateral litigation regarding the officer's knowledge of the parolee's status; and because, in any event, any additional deterrence would be minimal, whether the person conducting the search was a police officer or a parole officer... [R]eversed and remanded."

Justice Vote: 4 Pro vs. 5 Con

  • Thomas, C. Con (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • O'Connor, S. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Scalia, A. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Kennedy, A. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J. Pro (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Souter, D. Pro (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Ginsberg, R. Pro (Joined minority opinion)
  • Breyer, S. Pro (Joined minority opinion)

The ACLU filed as amicus urging affirmance; the US Supreme Court reversed and remanded the lower court's ruling in a 5-4 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent loss.