NC statute that probation search be for “purpose” of probation is a limitation on the search power

A 2009 amendment to the state probation search condition required that the search serve the purpose of the supervision, so it’s not carte blanche for a probation search. The trial court’s order refusing to suppress is reversed. State v. Powell, 2017 N.C. App. LEXIS 375 (May 16, 2017):

While our prior caselaw interpreting N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1343(b) makes clear that the presence and participation of law enforcement officers does not, by itself, render a warrantless search under the statute unlawful, the State must meet its burden of satisfying the “purpose” element of subsection (b)(13) — a burden that has been rendered more stringent by the 2009 statutory amendment. We are unable to conclude that the State has met that burden here. See, e.g., United States v. Irons, No. 7:16-CR-00055-F-1, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 168844, 2016 WL 7174648 *4 (E.D.N.C. Dec. 7, 2016) (although post-release supervisee was required to submit to warrantless searches for purposes reasonably related to his post-release supervision, the warrantless search of his home was unlawful where “[i]nstead of the search being supervisory in nature, it was conducted as part of a joint law enforcement initiative referred to as Operation Zero Hour”).

Were we to determine that the present search was permissible under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1343(b)(13), we would essentially be reading the phrase “for purposes directly related to the probation supervision” out of the statute. This we cannot do. See N.C. Bd. of Exam’rs for Speech Path. v. N.C. State Bd. of Educ., 122 N.C. App. 15, 21, 468 S.E.2d 826, 830 (1996) (“Since a legislative body is presumed not to have used superfluous words, our courts must accord meaning, if possible, to every word in a statute.”), aff’d per curiam in part and disc. review improvidently allowed in part, 345 N.C. 493, 480 S.E.2d 50 (1997). Thus, even assuming the trial court found the testimony of all the testifying officers at the suppression hearing to be credible, the evidence presented by the State was simply insufficient to satisfy the requirements of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1343(b)(13).

We wish to emphasize that our opinion today should not be construed as diminishing any of the authority conferred upon probation officers by N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1343(b)(13) to conduct warrantless searches of probationers’ homes or to utilize the assistance of law enforcement officers in conducting such searches. Rather, we simply hold that on the specific facts of this case the State has failed to meet its burden of demonstrating that the search of Defendant’s residence was authorized under this statutory provision.

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