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Justices: Search didn't violate 4th Amendment

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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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  2. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  3. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  4. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  5. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

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