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Under California law, a probationer's agreement to the warrantless search condition as part of his state-court probation is an agreement to be subject to suspicionless searches. A search condition of probation that permits a search without a warrant also permits a search without reasonable cause.
Officers of the San Francisco Police Department suspected that Defendant Marcel Daron King was involved in a homicide. When they checked into his criminal history, they learned that he was on adult felony probation in the City and County of San Francisco for violation of California Penal Code section 273.5. Defendant’s probation agreement stipulated that defendant was subject to a warrantless search condition, as to defendant's person, property, premises and vehicle, any time of the day or night, with or without probable cause, by any peace, parole or probation officer. The officers searched Defendant's residence and found an unloaded shotgun under his bed. That shotgun was the subject of Defendant's indictment under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). In the district court, Defendant filed a motion to suppress the shotgun, arguing that it was the fruit of an illegal search. The court denied the motion, holding that the officers had reasonable suspicion to conduct the search. After a bench trial with stipulated testimony, conducted only to preserve Defendant's right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress, Defendant was convicted. Defendant challenged his conviction.
Did the Fourth Amendment permit a suspicionless search of a defendant’s residence?
The Court noted that the defendant's status as a probationer meant that he began with a lower expectation of privacy than was enjoyed by a citizen who is not subject to a criminal sanction, and a probation search condition significantly diminished defendant's lower expectation of privacy. Moreover, the Court held that the state has an interest in discovering criminal activity and preventing the destruction of evidence. Probationers had even more of an incentive to conceal their criminal activities and quickly dispose of incriminating evidence than the ordinary criminal because probationers were aware that they may be subject to supervision and face revocation of probation, and possible incarceration, in proceedings in which the trial rights of a jury and proof beyond a reasonable doubt, among other things, did not apply. That was all the more so when the probationer agreed to a search condition that permitted warrantless, suspicionless searches of the probationer's person, property, premises and vehicle at any time of the day or night. The Court further held that the state has an interest in a probationer's successful completion of probation and in his or her reintegration into society. Balancing the slight intrusion on Defendant's expectation of privacy against the government's significant need to promote its legitimate governmental interests, the Court held that the search conducted was reasonable.