The Fourth Amendment does not prohibit a police officer from conducting a suspicionless search of a parolee

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that police may randomly search criminal parolees, continuing the deference it has shown law enforcement since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

The 6-3 ruling keeps in place a California law allowing such searches even when there is no clear evidence or suspicion of wrongdoing.

Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas noted, “As the recidivism rates demonstrate, most parolees are ill prepared to handle the pressures of reintegration. Thus most parolees require intense supervision.”

He added, “A requirement that searches be based on individualized suspicion would undermine the state’s ability to effectively supervise parolees and protect the public from criminal acts by reoffenders.”

Upon their release, California parolees must sign a requirement allowing police searches during their supervision. Failure or refusal to sign means they must stay behind bars.

Thomas rejected complaints that parolees are being singled out and suffer an unconstitutional diminished right of privacy.

The ruling was supported by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Samuel Alito.

The case involves Donald Samson, paroled in 2003 after a firearms felony conviction. A San Bruno police officer knew Samson was on parole when he observed him walking down a street.

The officer, after determining there were no outstanding warrants on Samson, began a search of him.

Methamphetamine was found in a pocket and Samson went back to prison for seven years.

Dissenting was Justice John Paul Stevens, who acknowledged parolees do not have protection “as robust as that afforded ordinary citizens.”

But, he wrote, the court’s past decisions do not support “a regime of suspicionless searches.”

The Samson case was one of two search-and-seizure appeals from California argued this term. The justices in March unanimously allowed to stand the conviction of a man who bought video showing minors engaged in sex acts.

The Bush administration Justice Department and law enforcement agencies around the country have asked the courts for greater powers to conduct searches of homes and cars, along the borders, and at sobriety and neighborhood crime checkpoints.

The federal government in some cases has raised the increased threat of domestic terrorism since 9/11 as a reason for more crime-fighting discretion.

The majority-conservative Supreme Court has generally been supportive of such efforts, but has not been shy about limiting such powers when the justices felt they overstep constitutional boundaries.




No. 04–9728. Argued February 22, 2006—Decided June 19, 2006

Pursuant to a California statute—which requires every prisoner eligible for release on state parole to “agree in writing to be subject tosearch or seizure by a parole officer or other peace officer . . . , with orwithout a search warrant and with or without cause?—and based solely on petitioner’s parolee status, an officer searched petitioner and found methamphetamine. The trial court denied his motions to suppress that evidence, and he was convicted of possession. Affirming, the State Court of Appeal held that suspicionless searches of parolees are lawful under California law and that the search in this case was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment because it was not arbitrary, capricious, or harassing.

Held: The Fourth Amendment does not prohibit a police officer from conducting a suspicionless search of a parolee. Pp. 3–12.
(a) The “totality of the circumstances? must be examined to determine whether a search is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. United States v. Knights, 534 U. S. 112, 118. Reasonableness “is determined by assessing, on the one hand, the degree to which [thesearch] intrudes upon an individual’s privacy and, on the other, thedegree to which it is needed for the promotion of legitimate governmental interests.? Id., at 118–119.

Applying this approach in Knights, the Court found reasonable the warrantless search of a probationer’s apartment based on reasonable suspicion and a probationcondition authorized by California law. In evaluating the degree ofintrusion into Knights’ privacy, the Court found his probationarystatus “salient,? id., at 118, observing that probation is on a continuum of possible punishments and that probationers “do not enjoy ‘the absolute liberty’ ? of other citizens, id., at 119.

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