Probationers Have Rights


A Philadelphia man sentenced to probation in Philadelphia’s “GunĀ Court” persuaded the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that the Gillin Court Tules were illegal.

Philadelphia’s Gun Court is not actually a court; instead, it is simply a program designed to fast track trial and sentencing in gun possession crimes. The program was designed to decrease the number of illegal guns in active circulation and to speed up the supervision of possessors of illegal guns.

The man who challenged the program focused on the Gull Court rules of probation. AiTested for having pointed a gun at an occupant of a car, the man was found guilty of possessing a handgun without a license and of possessing a handgun with an altered serial number. Only 20 years old, the man already had an extensive criminal history. Largely because of that criminal history, the judge sentenced the man to several years in jail, to be followed by a strict probation period of three years. Additionally, the judge ordered that the man’s probation officer could search his home to find guns or contraband at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all. The broad search power in the probation conditions was a routine provision used in Guin Court for probationers.

The man appealed, focusing on the probation provision that permittedĀ a probation officer to search his hone withoutĀ warrant and without any particular reason or suspicion. Pennsylvania law regulating probation officers permits them to conduct warrantless searches of probationers’ homes and property if there is ā€œreasonable suspicionā€ that the probationer has violated probation rules or possesses contraband or other illegal property. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court relied on the probation statute and decided that Gun Court judges may not expand the powers of probation officers by permitting ā€œsuspicion less, warrantless searches of probationers’ homes and property

Gun Court may continue to expedite and focus on gun crimes, but the firm measure of subjecting probationers to property searches without reasonable suspicion is no longer a weapon in the Gun Court’s arsenal.

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