ACLU Sues a Pennsylvania County for Detaining Probation Violators for Months With No Hearings
A Pennsylvania county is locking up alleged probation violators for months with no court hearings to examine their cases, the American Civil Liberties Union claims in a class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday, in which the plaintiffs argue that the practice is an unconstitutional deprivation of liberty.
Montgomery County, just north of Philadelphia, has a practice of detaining people in jail for probation violations and waiting weeks or months before providing them a judicial hearing to determine whether they should be returned to prison. The ACLU argues in its suit filed before the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania that this practice denies these people of their rights to due process.
A Supreme Court ruling from 1973, Gagnon v. Scarpello, establishes that people who face having their probation revoked have a right to a hearing first. Even though revoking somebody’s probation isn’t technically a new punishment, but a re-imposition of a previous sentence, the Court ruled 8-1 that it nevertheless may result in a substantial loss of liberty, and therefore these defendants are entitled to due process. Imagine the potential consequences otherwise: A person could end up back in jail for months or even years all based on just an accusation that they violated probation.
In Montgomery County, defendants are left in jail for weeks or months awaiting these hearings. According to the ACLU lawsuit, this ends up essentially being a form of punishment that pushes the defendants to plead guilty to a violation in hopes of a judge releasing them from jail. Without
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