In a bill that is currently making its way through the South Carolina legislature, the privacy rights of parolees and probationers are being challenged. The proposed law, commonly known as the South Carolina Reduction of Recidivism Act of 2010, would allow officers to search persons recently released from prison on parole or probation without first obtaining a warrant. This power would also extend to searching the person's vehicle and personal belongings, such as a purse or bag, and seizing anything illegal.
Reduce Relapse Rates
The South Carolina Reduction of Recidivism Act of 2010 was first introduced in the Senate in early 2009. The stated goals of the legislation are to prevent recently released criminals from committing repeat crimes during their period of parole or probation and to reduce recidivism, or relapse into crime, rates. These goals would be achieved through eliminating the step where officers have to ask judges for warrants before searching certain individuals engaged in suspect activities.
To further enforce the new procedure, the bill mandates that those who are up for parole or probation must consent to the warrantless searches in writing as a condition of their release. If they do not, they must serve their outstanding time behind bars. This legislation is currently headed towards a vote and resides again with the Senate after the House recently amended and returned it. Even though the ultimate goal of the bill seems beneficial to society, the means the legislation presents is not without controversy.
Assess Pros and Cons
Proponents of the bill say that it would deter repeat offenders for fear of being caught with illegal items. They also offer that it could help keep parolees and probationers in line if overworked parole or probation officers cannot frequently monitor their activities and whereabouts. In prison, criminals have little to no privacy rights. Those in favor of permitting warrantless searches and seizures agree that these privacy limits should be continued to discourage temptation for convicted criminals serving the remainder of their sentences in the greater community.
Critics of the proposed law cite the violation of privacy of people who already served their prison time. They shudder at the thought of officers performing unprovoked searches and argue this will generally harm the reputation of law enforcement personnel among area residents where these searches are performed. In addition, some civil rights advocates state there is no evidence that law would prevent recidivism and are concerned about the possibility of racial profiling by officers taking the liberty to stop people based on how they look. A final point of contention is the issue of home searches, but the Senate and House have not definitively agreed that these should be included under the law.
Prevent Searches and Seizures
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the privacy of citizens. It secures people from unreasonable government intrusion, for example from searches and seizures, by police. This right extends to people even during police stops in a vehicle or on the street, or in the event of an arrest or search of a home or business. This amendment does not apply if an officer has a valid search or arrest warrant or believes there is probable cause of participation in criminal activity.
The warrantless search and seizure bill seems to directly conflict with the rights of U.S. citizens that are guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. As a person free from imprisonment, a parolee or probationer may expect their right to privacy and that the safeguard of the warrant process will still apply. Could a law like this, where a court does not participate in determining probable cause, promote an officer to abuse his or her power to search a person and seize property? Opponents of the law argue sentencing reform to keep violent and repeat offenders in jail is a better way achieve the legislature's goals. Many issues related to this bill are yet to be determined.
Participate in the Debate
Other states also see the value in allowing searches and seizures with regard to parolees and probationers without a warrant. North Carolina passed similar legislation, and Tennessee's Supreme Court upheld legislation permitting warrantless searches even if there is no suspicion of illegal activity. Regardless, these types of laws walk a fine line between violating the privacy rights of recently released criminals and attempting to foil the plans of would-be repeat offenders.
Because this bill encourages treating parolees and probationers differently than non-criminals, it is important to understand the purpose of parole and probation and the laws that restrict people upon their release from prison. We must all be conscious of the rights that we have, such as the right to privacy and protection from unreasonable searches and seizures, and seek to preserve them. When the government passes legislation that curtails these rights, even for a fraction of the population, we may become subject to them one day.