DOUGLAS COUNTY CASE LIMITS 4th AMENDMENT IN PROBATION REVOCATION HEARINGS
The Georgia Supreme Court has recently handed down a decision stemming from a case in the west Georgia area which significantly impacts criminal law in our state. In State v. Thackston, the Court ruled that the fruits of unconstitutional searches and seizures need not be excluded from probation revocations.
The 6-1 decision limiting the protection of the 4th Amendment does away with more than three decades of state Court of Appeals precedent. The ruling says the interest in giving complete information to judges faced with probation revocation petitions outweighs any concerns about deterring unconstitutional police behavior.
In this case, Hulon Thackston was on probation for drug distribution offenses in Douglas County when he was stopped for a traffic violation in Paulding County in March 2007. Police found methamphetamine in his pants during the traffic stop. Thackston’s attorney filed a motion to suppress this search because the police performed an illegal frisk of his person during the stop.
After Paulding officials filed drug charges against Thackston, Douglas Superior Court Judge Donald B. Howe Jr. issued a warrant for Thackston’s arrest for violating his probation.
In October 2007, officers executed the warrant at Thackston’s Paulding County residence. During the execution of the warrant, officers saw methamphetamine on the kitchen table, obtained a search warrant and found more drugs at the residence.
Paulding County prosecutors adding a trafficking charge to their case against Thackston, but Superior Court Judge James R. Osborne granted Thackston’s motion to suppress evidence because the March seizure was unconstitutional thereby making evidence gathered during the search and seizure at his home in October inadmissible.
In Douglas County, Thackston argued that since Judge Osborne had ruled in his favor on the search and seizure issue, that prosecutors could not contest the suppression motion again. Judge William H. McClain disagreed and ruled that the search of the home was legal.
As you can imagine, this case made it all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court who decided to look at the issue of whether the exclusionary rule (the rule that excludes evidence gathered after a 4th Amendment violation) should even apply to probation revocation hearings. The answer was an almost unanimous no. (Justice Benham dissented).
Justice Thompson, writing for the majority, concluded that the U.S. Supreme Court had refused to apply the exclusionary rule to parole revocation hearings, and he said that the majority of jurisdictions that had considered the issue had declined to extend the rule to probation revocation hearings.
So, the bottom line is this. When a person is on probation, they will simply receive less protection from unreasonable searches and seizures. This should also be a warning to people on probation who are involved with drugs. Many drug cases are dismissed in this state based on 4th Amendment violations. The number now will significantly decrease for those defendants who are on probation.
I also have to acknowledge and congratulate my friend, Tom Kegley, who represented the state in this case. You must have performed quite well to convince the Court to make such a dramatic change in the law.