South Carolina Senate Should Reject Warrantless Search Bill Approved By House, Says ACLU South Carolina National Office

February 26, 2010 2:25 pm

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The South Carolina House on Thursday approved on its third reading Senate bill 191, which authorizes warrantless searches of juveniles and adults on probation and parole. The ACLU South Carolina National Office urges the Senate to vote no on this bill when it takes it up next week.

“There is no evidence supporting the concept that we can reduce recidivism by expanding police power to conduct warrantless searches of people’s cars and possessions,” said Victoria Middleton, Executive Director of the ACLU SC National Office. “The proposed expansion of police power would, in essence, create a category of citizens with no right to privacy – all those who are on probation or parole.”

This bill would undermine the goals of omnibus criminal justice legislation (S 1154) recently proposed by the South Carolina Sentencing Reform Commission. The important aim of holistic reform cannot be achieved through ad hoc legislation that does not address the causes of recidivism but does encroach on cherished constitutional protections.

Legislation that purports to expand the power of an individual officer to determine who is on probation or parole, whether that person’s activities are suspicious and whether then to search a citizen or a car may actually impede the ability of an officer to be effective in the community where he or she is working. If the officer judges wrongly, then police power will have been abused and the damage will be done to police credibility in that community. If a police officer, relying on S191, undertakes a warrantless search of a residence only to discover later that no person on parole or probation actually lived in the building, that search will be unlawful.

“S191 puts police officers at risk, trespasses upon judicial authority and jeopardizes one of our most vital constitutional rights. The time honored way to protect a police officer from allegations of abuse of police power is to restrict most power to search and arrest to situations when a judicial officer has authorized the use of power by issuing a warrant. Then the decision does not rest on the officer’s shoulders,” said Middleton. “This bill disregards real evidence about what will reduce crime and recidivism,” added Middleton, “and the state Senate should reject it.”

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