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Parole Searches in Pennsylvania Revisited

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Parolees/Probationers have constitutional rights against unlawful searches and seizures.

By Attorney Elisabeth K.H. Pasqualini, Parole Lawyer, Harrisburg, PA

The Fourth Amendment prohibits the warrantless search of probationers' or parolees' residences without the consent of the owner or without a statutory or regulatory framework governing the search.  I have blogged on this topic previously (see link), but wanted to amplify and clarify that there is a statutory scheme in place to deal with parole searches.

In an opinion based solely on the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that because Pennsylvania did not have a statutory or regulatory framework governing the parole and probation system, the "special needs" exception articulated in the landmark U.S Supreme Court case, Griffin v. Wisconsin,  did not apply to the activity in which the parole officers had engaged in that case.  Com. v. Pickron, 535 Pa. 241, 634 A.2d 1093 (1993).  In response, the Pennsylvania Legislature enacted statutes authorizing state parole agents and county probation and parole officers to conduct searches of the person and property of offenders in accordance with the statutory provisions. 

Both of these provisions- 61 Pa.C.S.A. § 6153 (Supervisory relationship to offenders [State parole agents]) and 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 9912 (Supervisory relationship to offenders [County probation and parole officers]), permit supervising parole agencies to conduct reasonable searches of their probationers/parolees.  They do not, however, permit parole agents to violate either the U.S. or Pennsylvania Constitutions.

Parolees can waive consent to a search in their parole conditions and have a reduced expectation of privacy because of their status- it all hinges on "reasonableness"

Under the analysis set forth by the PA Supreme Court, for the purpose of examining under the Fourth Amendment whether evidence seized from a parolee after a warrantless search by his parole officer should be suppressed, a search is reasonable if the totality of the evidence demonstrates: (1) that the parole officer had a reasonable suspicion (as opposed to probable cause) that the parolee had committed a parole violation, and (2) that the search was reasonably related to the parole officer's duty.  To determine the existence of reasonable suspicion to search a probationer the court should consider the following factors set forth in the statute: (1) the observations of the officers; (2) information provided by others; (3) the activities of the offender; (4) information provided by the offender; (5) the experience of the officers with the offender; (6) the experience of the officers in similar circumstances; (7) the prior criminal and supervisory history of the offender; and (8) the need to verify compliance with the conditions of supervision.

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