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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Monday, December 10, 2007

In Good Faith: Arkansas Case Reveals State's Good Faith Version Of The Exclusionary Rule In Revocation Proceedings

A recent decision by the Court of Appeals of Arkansas reveals that Arkansas courts appear to have different rules regarding the applicability of the exclusionary rule in parole and probation revocation proceedings than do federal courts and most other state courts.  In Stephens v. State of Arkansas, John Abraham Stepehens had pleaded nolo contendere in 1995 to several drug offenses and was sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment, with twelve and one-half years of that sentence suspended.

In 2006, a neighbor called police about a domestic disturbance at Stephens' home, and when the police arrived, Stephens' wife was leaving in her automobile.  The officers then went to the door, announced their presense, and received no response.  They thereafter entered the house without a warrant, later claiming that they saw playground equipment outside Stephens' home, which led them to think that there might be other victims -- especially children -- inside.  Instead, they found the defendant and illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia.  The police later conducted additional searches of Stephens' home with the consent of his wife and a search warrant.

At the hearing to revoke his suspended sentence, Stephens argued that the evidence obtained by the police officers was inadmissible pursuant to the exlcusionary rule, which prevents the admission of evidence obtained in violation of a defendant's Fourth Amendment rights in certain types of cases.  Unfortunately for the defendant, the United States Supreme Court has found that the exclusionary rule is not a Constitutional right and has declined to extend it to revocation proceedings because its deterrent effect to improper police behavior would be minimal. See Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole v. Scott, 524 U.S. 327, 362-69 (1998). 

Of course, this decision does not prevent states from affording their citizens greater Constitutional protections, although most states have concurred with the Supreme Court that the exclusionary rule does not extend to revocation proceedings. See, e.g., Logan v. Commonwealth, 651 S.E.2d 403, 404 (Va.App. 2007).  That said, some courts have found that the exclusionary rule does extend to revocation proceedings. See, e.g., Wallace v. State, 964 So.2d 722, 726 (Fla.App. 2 Dist. 2007).

According to the court in Stephens, Arkansas has taken an approach that falls somehwere in the middle.  Specifically, in Dabney v. State, 646 S.W.2d 4, 5 (Ark. 1983), the Supreme Court of Arkansas found that "the exclusionary rule does not apply strictly in a proceeding to revoke probation or parole" and that evidence that would be prohibited under the exclusionary rule at a formal trial is admissible at such a proceeding as long as the officers acted in "good faith."  Thus, as the Stephens court noted, the exclusionary rule does apply in revocation proceedings when the defendant can prove bad faith on the part of the officers.  However, because Stephens could not prove that the officers who searched his home without a warrant acted in bad faith, the evidence obtained was admissible against him.

Frankly, I think that I like Arkansas' approach.  I can see why the Supreme Court found that the exclusionary rule should not apply to revocations proceedings because it would have a limited deterrent effect.  At the same, having such a categorical rule essentially gives police officers carte blanche if they know that an individual is on parole or has a suspended sentence.  By having its "good faith" safeguard, Arkansas seemingly adheres to the spirit of the Supreme Court's decision while still maintaining some deterrent effect.

-CM

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