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Justices: Search didn't violate 4th Amendment

March 24, 2010

A warrantless search of a probationer's property that is conducted reasonably and supported by a probation search term and reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, doesn't violate Fourth Amendment rights, the Indiana Supreme Court held today.

In State of Indiana v. Allan M. Schlechty, No. 38S04-0905-CR-246, the state appealed the trial court grant of probationer Allan Schlechty's motion to suppress drugs and paraphernalia found in his car during a warrantless search. A probation officer and police responded to a report that Schlechty tried to lure a young girl into his car. They believed they could search the car because conditions of his probation included he shall "behave well," not commit any other criminal offenses, and Schlechty had agreed to submit to reasonable warrantless searches.

A split Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed granting the motion, but the Supreme Court reversed. In doing so, the justices analyzed Griffin v. Wisconsin, 483 U.S. 868 (1987), and United States v. Knights, 534 U.S. 112 (2001). A warrantless search under Griffin may be justified on the basis of reasonable suspicion to believe a probation violation has occurred because supervision of probationers is needed to ensure restrictions are followed and the community isn't harmed by having the probationer at large, wrote Justice Robert Rucker. Under Knights, even if there is no probationary purpose at stake, a warrantless search may be justified on the basis of reasonable suspicion to believe the probationer has engaged in criminal activity and that a search condition is one of the terms of probation.

The trial court ruled the search of the car was unreasonable because the state didn't present specific articulable facts from which to conclude there was reasonable suspicion that the search was necessary.

"It appears to us that the trial court may have conflated two different concepts: the 'reasonableness' of the search under the Fourth Amendment on the one hand, versus 'reasonable suspicion' to support the search on the other," wrote Justice Rucker.

But there wasn't anything unreasonable about the search of the car because it was apparently used to try to lure a young girl. Schlechty's conduct implicated the possible criminal offenses of stalking and attempted confinement. The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held that an officer's subjective motivation for a search is measured against an objective standard of reasonableness. Viewed objectively, the officers had reasonable suspicion to believe criminal activity had occurred even though their subjective motives for the search may have suggested otherwise, wrote Justice Rucker.

The justices remanded the case for further proceedings.

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