08.06.2020 in Law
Morrissey v. Brewer

Morrissey v. Brewer (1972) created a precedent that required further investigation in probation and parole proceedings. The case revealed certain power abuse of parole officers who took advantage of Mr. Morrissey’s position and advocated his return to jail on the pretext of parole violation. The research suggests that Morrissey v. Brewer was a defining case in further probation and parole proceedings due to several factors involved in it, including due process violation, probation and parole extensions, and the correlation between parole conditions, and an individual’s Constitutional rights under the Fourteenth and Fifth Amendments to testify and be present in court.

Case Overview


Petitioner Morrissey was convicted of false checks uttering in 1967, what resulted in seven years’ confinement. In June 1968, he was paroled from the Iowa State Penitentiary. Seven months later, he was arrested after the report from the parole officer on a parole violation that caused incarceration in the county jail. The officer’s report was revoked by the State of Iowa Parole Board. Mr. Morrissey was relocated to penitentiary 100 miles from his home. The petitioner claimed that no prior hearings were made before the parole revocation.


Were the parole officer’s actions sufficient to revoke parole and send Mr. Morrissey back to jail? Can Mr. Morrissey’s claim be justified concerning the due process violation in parole hearings?


Under the Due Process Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment, an individual cannot be deprived of the proceedings concerning the parole violation. An informal hearing is required. A due process includes several arrest conditions, namely impartial hearing officer near the place of the parole violation; reasonable ground or proof for the parole revocation; a notice of the alleged violation before probationer’s arrest; ability to be present and testify in court, cross-examine, and call witnesses. The revocation hearing contain six vital elements after the parolee’s arrest, including a written notice, evidence disclosure against the parolee, opportunity to be present at court, confrontation and cross-examination of the witnesses, neutral and detached “hearing body,”and a written statement on the court’s ruling (Morrissey v. Brewer, 1972). The ruling revealed direct violation of due process of law as Mr. Morrissey was arrested, jailed, and reported on the probation violation without any prior hearings and no notices. A documented evidence on the precise regulation violation was not provided as well.

Specific Rights Granted

The significance of case lies in the necessity of maintaining the parolee’s rights and ensuring they are not deprived of several other privileges. Thus, an individual cannot be deprived of the right to be heard and witness at the parole violation trial and placed directly to jail. Besides, there should be a probable cause. In the case of Mr. Morrissey, the probable revocation cause was the violation of parole concerning the car rent that goes beyond the principle of non-leaving the boundaries of the formerly discussed district. However, the parolee was deprived of the above-mentioned rights.

The specific rights granted to a parolee are as follows. Under the Rule 32.1 entitled “Revoking or Modifying Probation or Supervised Release,” an individual should be trialed without “unnecessary delay” (Fed. R. Crim. P. 32.1). In Mr. Morrissey’s case, he was transferred from one penitentiary to another, what complies with the definition of “unnecessary delay.” Accordingly, the fact of individual being in custody does not provide authorities with the right to detain him/her on probation violation without charges provision. Under the same Rule 32.1 (a), an individual should be trialed at the same district “where alleged violation occurred” (Fed. R. Crim. P. 32.1). Comparing Mr. Morrissey’s case to that of another petitioner Mr. Booher, it becomes clear that the transfer from one county to another is apparently a violation of “due process” (Morrissey v. Brewer, 1972). The points are related as they both constitute the violation of parolee’s rights.

According to the “due process” definition by the US law and case facts, Mr. Morrissey was deprived of the right to protect himself in court and be informed of the charges (“Due process,” n.d.). Instead, he was placed back in jail and debarred from the due process of law guaranteed in the Constitution under the Fifth Amendment. The due process is ensured by two Amendments. First, it is the Fifth Amendment that stipulates the federal government cannot “deprive of life, liberty of property without the due process” (U.S. Const. amend. V). Second, it is the Fourteenth Amendment, according to which the legality of the process cannot be observed apart from the proper court hearings (U.S. Const. amend. XIV). Consequently, Mr. Morrissey had the right be to be heard and provide testimony before being jailed again.

Impact on Gagnon v. Scarpelli (1973)

Morrissey v. Brewer played a crucial part in solving Gagnon v. Scarpelli (1973). The parole in the latter case was similarly revoked without the prior hearings due to certain complications. Mr. Scarpelli also appealed concerning due process violation and, with reference to Morrissey v. Brewer, was granted with the due process hearing (Gagnon v. Scarpelli, 1973). The former case served an example for the process order, maintenance, ruling, and appealing. Probationer Scarpelli confessed committing the burglary but later reported the admission of “felony under duress” (Gagnon v. Scarpelli, 1973). His probation was revoked without a hearing. The violation of the due process resulted in referencing to Morrissey v. Brewer for solving the case.

As the result of such action, Morrissey v. Brewer extended the rights of the probationers in the following ways. First, every probationer should be represented by counsel. According to the ruling on Gagnon v. Scarpelli (1973), the “complicated documentary evidence” requires a qualified person to represent a defendant in the case. In addition, the ruling made the provision of counsel compulsory “if a probationer requests” such assistance (Gagnon v. Scarpelli, 1973). Similarly, under the Rule 32.1 (3), a probationer has an inviolable right for advice and preliminary hearings (Fed. R. Crim. P. 32.1.) . Consequently, under 411 U.S. 791, the inability of providing a counsel should be clearly stated on the record.

Second, no probationer can be re-jailed in a way that violates the due process of law. The revocation hearings, which are similar to Morrissey v. Brewer, should contain five elements outlined in Rule 32.1 (2): a written notice, evidence disclosure and proper documenting, an opportunity to appear, give testimony, cross-examine, and call witnesses unless the court determines otherwise. A person has the right to “retain counsel or request one”( Fed. R. Crim. P. 32.1.). Moreover, he/she is able to present any information applicable to the case.

Third, every probationer is free to waive a hearing if it is not required. Thus, under the Rule 32.1 (2), a hearing might be required because of the probationer’s desire, favorable relief conditions or an absence of attorney’s objection to the relief notice (“Due process,” n.d.). Mr. Scarpelli referred an appeal request to court owing to the “duress” experienced during the trial. Such a fact was left without notice, what violated both the due process and his Constitutional right to testify. Consequently, probation does not restore all the citizen rights to an individual; however, the basic ones are inalienable.


The research shows the considerable impact of Morrissey v. Brewer (1972) on the probation and parole hearings. Mr. Morrissey used his constitutional rights under the Fifth and the Fourteenth Amendments to appeal on the due process violation. The probation and parole hearings procedure and circumstances became known as Rule 32.1 “Revoking or Modify Probation or Supervised Release of the US law.” Rule 32.1 provided several basic rights for the probationer, namely those of being informed of the violation of probation/parole; represented in court by the counsel; be present, and able to testify, cross-examine , and call witnesses for the case concerning probation/parole revocation. Accordingly, the due process of law within the probation/parole hearings currently conveys five stages: a written notice obtainment; evidence disclosure to a probationer; presence and testifying in court; retainment of counsel and being advised; making statements and presenting any applicable data within the case hearings. The mentioned procedures enable a probationer to appeal and discuss the extension of the probations rules. In addition, it limited the potential impact of the authorities’ power abuse against a particular person.

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