What Is a Gagnon Hearing?

By Karen Brown
Gagnon hearings protect probationers' due process rights.

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A Gagnon hearing is a legal event that protects the due process rights of criminal defendants who have been granted probation. Gagnon hearings are an outgrowth of procedural due process guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution to U.S. citizens. These rights can not be taken away without due process or fair and just legal procedures. U.S. citizens on probation are entitled to due protection of certain basic rights.

Due Process Defined

Due process laws exist to protect the private rights of U.S. citizens in legal proceedings. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution state that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. Gagnon hearings protect the liberty of probationers by ensuring fair legal proceedings when deciding whether to revoke their probationary status. Gagnon hearings are an effective tool in the protection of probationers' constitutional rights.

Gagnon v. Scarpelli

The case of Gagnon v. Scarpelli in 1973, is the reason Gagnon hearings exist today. In this case, the state of Wisconsin revoked Scarpelli's probation without a hearing after his alleged admission to police of a probation violation. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled eight to one that Scarpelli's due process rights were violated because Wisconsin failed to give him a hearing prior to revoking his probation. As a result of this decision, all federal and state courts must hold Gagnon hearings before revoking probation.

Gagnon 1 and 2 Hearings

Two types of Gagnon hearings can occur after an alleged probation violation. The Gagnon 1 hearing, also known as the preliminary hearing, decides whether to hold a probationer in custody or let him remain free during the revocation proceedings. At the Gagnon 2 hearing, also known as the revocation hearing, the court makes a final decision on whether to revoke probation after reviewing the evidence and hearing a statement from the probationer.

Right to Counsel

Probationers are not guaranteed a right to have a lawyer present at Gagnon hearings. Although the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees a right to counsel in a criminal trial, the law doesn't consider probation revocation hearings criminal trials. In Gagnon v. Scarpelli, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the decision whether to provide legal counsel to an indigent probationer during Gagnon hearings should be made on a case-by-case basis.

About the Author

Based in Richmond, Va., Karen Brown began her professional writing career in 1992. She has expertise in legal topics, federal administration, small-business issues and technical writing. Brown holds a Juris Doctor from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

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