Monday, February 02, 2015

4th Circuit considers privacy interests in one's home during term of supervision

US v. Hill, et al.   - In this appeal, three folks on terms of supervised release raised a Fourth Amendment challenge to a probation officer’s walk-through and a dog-sniff of an apartment where one of the folks had purportedly moved.  A United States Probation officer suspected supervisee Eric Barker of moving without notification, and obtained an arrest warrant for Barker, executing it at his alleged new apartment.  Once there, the probation officer discovered Barker and two others living or staying there, both also serving terms of supervised release, and conducted a protective sweep.  After all three folks were arrested and the sweep concluded, the probation officers conducted a further walk-through and dog sniff, during which time the dog alerted and the officers found further evidence of supervised release violations.

Barker and the two others, Robert Hill and Megan Dunigan, claimed on appeal that the walk-through and dog sniff violated the individuals’ rights under the Fourth Amendment, and under Fourth Circuit precedent, a search warrant should have been obtained before the advanced searches, beyond the protective sweep, were conducted.  The Fourth Circuit agreed.  Though all three individuals were subject to the standard condition that required them to “permit a Probation Officer to visit him or her at any time, at home or elsewhere, and [to] permit confiscation of any contraband observed in plain view,” probation officers must comply with the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement.

As the legal basis for its decision, the Fourth Circuit panel used United States v. Bradley from 1978, wherein defendant Bradley was on parole with a condition requiring him allow his parole officer to visit his home or place of employment, and no parole condition required Bradley to consent to searches.  Acting on a tip, Bradley’s parole officer went to Bradley’s boarding house, searched his room, and located a firearm.  The Fourth Circuit held that the parole officer should have obtained a search warrant, even where the parolee has consented to periodic and unannounced visits by the parole officer.  Hence, there was an agreement to home visits by a probation officer, but not warrantless searches.  Further, the Fourth Circuit panel found here that Bradley still controls, and that law enforcement officers may not search the home of an individual on supervised release who is not subject to a warrantless search condition, unless the officers have a warrant supported by probable cause.

The Fourth Circuit remanded the case to the district court for an evaluation of whether the information gained during the illegal searches affected the officer’s decision to seek a warrant.

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