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Evidence seized from probationer’s roommate violated 4th Amendment

June 10, 2015

The Indiana Supreme Court on Tuesday reversed the partial denial of a man’s request to suppress drug evidence found during a routine warrantless search of the residence he shared with a man on probation. The probationer only consented to searches based on reasonable suspicion.

Defendant Brishen Vanderkolk lived with Jordan Sullivan, who was on home detention under community corrections when corrections officers went to his residence to conduct a routine warrantless search. Officers found illegal drugs in a common area shared by the two men, and they found drugs and paraphernalia in each man’s bedroom. Vanderkolk, charged with various drug-related offenses, moved to suppress all evidence found, arguing that it was found based on an improper search. The trial court only granted his motion regarding evidence found in his bedroom.

The Court of Appeals affirmed last year, but the justices reversed in State of Indiana v. Brishen R. Vanderkolk, 79S04-1411-CR-718, ruling the evidence found in the bedroom also should have been suppressed.

The state claimed that based on Samson v. California, 547 U.S. 843, 126 S. Ct. 2193, 165 L. Ed. 2d 250 (2006), the suspicionless search was authorized under the Fourth Amendment because of Sullivan’s community corrections status. It also claimed that Sullivan consented to the searches when he signed the community corrections handbook.

Samson involved a person on parole, and the decision did not authorize suspicionless searches based on a parolee’s status alone, Justice Brent Dickson wrote. He also noted that in the handbook, it says that Sullivan would consent to the search of his home “at any time without prior notice to search upon probable cause.” The ensuing search and seizures were thus unlawful under the Fourth Amendment and the resulting evidence must be suppressed, the justices held.

It is possible, however, for a probationer or community corrections participant, pursuant to a valid search condition or advance consent, to authorize a warrantless premises search without reasonable suspicion and be subject to such searches during the period of the probationary or community corrections status, Dickson wrote.

Justice Robert Rucker concurred in result without separate decision. The case is remanded to grant the motion to suppress in its entirety.

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