E.D.N.C.: Def’s probation search was done at a reasonable time and in a reasonable manner, as required by state statute

Defendant’s North Carolina probation search was conducted at a reasonable time and in a reasonable manner, as required by statute, and it was for probation purposes. It was not quite a nighttime search. United States v. Lynch, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 53581 (E.D. N.C. April 6, 2017):

Rather, the Court finds that, in assessing the circumstances of this search, the special needs of the State, and the conditions of probation agreed to by both defendant and Davis, that the search was not at an unreasonable time. This was not clearly a nighttime search, and would not be considered a daytime search if made pursuant to a warrant. It was also not made to further law enforcement objectives, but the state of North Carolina’s special needs of promoting the rehabilitation of probationers and protecting the public’s safety from those at a higher risk of recidivism. Additionally, both defendant and Davis had agreed to submit to warrantless searches, and were aware that they were subject to supervision and monitoring to ensure their compliance with the terms of their probation. Their expectations of privacy were consequently reduced as a result of probation, which further supports the reasonableness of the time of this search. For these reasons, the Court finds that the search was conducted at a reasonable time.

Next, the Court finds that the search was properly conducted by a probation officer. The parties do not dispute that both Davis’ probation officer, among several other probation officers and law enforcement officials, were present for the initial search of Davis. The fact that police officers were present or involved in the search does not violate the requirements of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1343. Midgette, 478 F.3d at 625-26 (“While North Carolina’s probation law authorizes only probation officers to conduct warrantless searches, that authorization does not preclude the probation officer from obtaining help from the police department for the purpose of physically conducting the search.”). Nor does North Carolina law require that only the specific probation officer assigned to defendant be the one to conduct the search that evolved out of the search of Davis. Rather, the probation agreement and North Carolina law only require that “a probation officer” conduct the search. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1343(b)(13) (emphasis added). To hold otherwise would not serve North Carolina’s legitimate interest in administering its probation system and would unnecessarily burden the efforts of probation officers, who generally supervise probationers as a group.

Finally, the Court finds that the search of defendant was conducted for purposes directly related to probation supervision. North Carolina law does not require that a warrantless search be conducted by the probation officer individually assigned to a probationer in order to be “directly related to probation supervision.” Rather, these two requirements (that the search be conducted “by a probation officer” and “for purposes directly related to probation supervision”) are both distinct and necessary conditions for the warrantless search to be lawful. Nor does the fact that the search of defendant evolved out of a search of his roommate necessarily indicate that the search was unrelated to the conditions of his probation. Rather, whether a warrantless search of a probationer was related to the terms of his probation is a fact-specific inquiry that assesses whether the State’s special interests in enforcing its probation scheme are implicated by the circumstances giving rise to the search.

Because the case is in federal court, the court could have just said that “under Virginia v. Moore, the Fourth Amendment controls reasonableness of probation searches, not state statute.”

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