CAN A FLORIDA PROBATION OFFICER SEARCH WITHOUT A WARRANT?

May 10, 2013

I recently had a case where my client’s probation officer conducted a search
(accompanied by investigators from the Sheriff’s department) of my client’s home without a
warrant. The probation officer indicated she had been by the house ten (10) days earlier and had
noticed a “chemical smell.” During the search, the probation officer allegedly discovered
chemicals used to synthesize methamphetamine and a bottle of “meth oil.” The probation officer
went out of the trailer and sent the Sheriff’s investigators in to take photographs of the interior of
the trailer. Based upon this alleged evidence, my client was arrested for violation of his
probation and new charges of manufacture of methamphetamine.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States provides that no person
shall be subjected to unreasonable searches and seizures and that no warrant shall be issued
except based upon probable cause. Is a warrantless search of a probationer’s home by a
probation officer valid? Can the evidence obtained in this search be used in a new law
violation?

Prior to 2001, Florida courts recognized a dichotomy between probationary searches and
investigative searches. Under this doctrine, evidence discovered in probationary searches was
admissible only in violation of probation proceedings. This evidence would not be admissible in
the new criminal case.

This doctrine was overturned by U.S. v. Knights, a 2001 United State Supreme Court
case. In Knights, the Court held that the condition of Knights’ probation that he submit his
person and property to a warrantless search did not restrict itself to searches by a probation
officer or dictate evidence found during such a search be subject to limitation in the violation of
probation case. The Knight Court thus held that the condition of probation allowed probation
officers as well as other law enforcement to conduct warrantless searches of the Defendant’s
property and that evidence discovered during such a search was admissible in the new criminal
case if the search was based upon “reasonable suspicion.”

 

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