Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Warrantless Search of Probationer Upheld

US v. Midgette: Midgette was on probation for two North Carolina convictions when his probation officer received a tip from a police officer that Midgette was in possession of firearms, in violation of the conditions of his probation. Another condition of Midgette's probation was that he submit to warrantless searches of his person, home, or vehicle at the request of his probation officer at reasonable times and if the search was reasonable related to his probation. After a meeting with Midgette, his probation officer ordered two police officers to search Midgette's car. They did so and recovered ammunition. The four of them then went to Midgette's home, where the officers also conducted a search, discovering firearms and marijuana. Midgette was indicted by a federal grand jury for being a felon in possession of a firearm, possession of an unregistered firearm, and possession of marijuana.

Midgette filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized in his home and car, arguing that the warrantless searches violated the Fourth Amendment. Midgette's motion was referred to a magistrate judge, who made findings of fact and recommended that the motion be denied. Midgette filed objections to the magistrate judge's recommendations, specifically arguing that (1) the magistrate improperly assumed he was on probation, (2) the magistrate incorrectly concluded that the meeting that triggered the searches was regularly scheduled, and (3) that the searches were conducted in violation of North Carolina law, which allows probation officers, not police officers, to make such warrantless searches. The district court overruled Midgette's objections and denied the motion to suppress. Midgette pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 46 months in prison.

On appeal, Midgette made three arguments: (1) North Carolina's probation statute violates the Fourth Amendment because it allows warrantless searches without individualized suspicion, (2) the probation officer lacked reasonable suspicion to conduct the search, and (3) that the searches by police officers, rather than probation officers, violated North Carolina law. The Fourth Circuit rejected all those arguments. As to the first two, the court agreed with the Government that Midgette had waived those arguments by failing to present them in the objections to the magistrate judge's recommendations. Specific objections are required to preserve issues in such situations. Regardless, the court went on to note in dicta that those two arguments were not persuasive at any rate, relying on Griffin v. Wisconsin, 483 U.S. 868 (1987), and US v. Knights, 534 U.S. 112 (2001). As to Midgette's third argument, the court held that the searches were conducted in accordance with North Carolina law because they were instigated and directed by the probation officer, even though the police officers did the actual searching.

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