UNITED STATES v. KNIGHTS
A California court sentenced Mark James Knights to probation for a drug offense. The probation order included the following condition: that Knights would "submit his...person, property, place of residence, vehicle, personal effects, to search at anytime, with or without a search warrant, warrant of arrest or reasonable cause by any probation officer or law enforcement officer." In the aftermath of arson at the site of a Pacific Gas and Electric (PGE) power transformer, a sheriff's detective, with reasonable suspicion, searched Knights's apartment. Based in part on items recovered, including a PGE padlock, a federal grand jury indicted Knights for conspiracy to commit arson, for possession of an unregistered destructive device, and for being a felon in possession of ammunition. In granting Knights's motion to suppress, the District Court held that, although the detective had reasonable suspicion to believe that Knights was involved with incendiary materials, the search was for "investigatory" rather than "probationary" purposes. The Court of Appeals affirmed.
Does a search pursuant to a common California probation condition, supported by reasonable suspicion, satisfy the Fourth Amendment?
Legal provision: Amendment 4: Fourth Amendment
Yes. In a unanimous opinion delivered by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, the Court held that the warrantless search of Knights, which was supported by reasonable suspicion and authorized by a condition of probation, was reasonable within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Noting that nothing in Knight's probation condition limits searches to those with a "probationary" purpose, the Court examined whether the Fourth Amendment imposed such a limitation. The Court then concluded that, based on ordinary Fourth Amendment analysis, reasonable suspicion is constitutionally sufficient to render a warrant requirement unnecessary. Justice David H. Souter filed a concurring opinion.
ORAL ARGUMENT OF MALCOM L. STEWART ON BEHALF OF THE PETITIONER
Chief Justice Rehnquist: We'll hear argument next in No. 00-1260, the United States v. Mark James Knights.
Mr. Stewart: Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:
In May 1998, respondent was convicted of a misdemeanor drug offense in a California court and was placed on 3 years' probation.
One term of his probation required respondent to submit to searches of his person or property, quote, with or without a search warrant, warrant of arrest or reasonable cause by any probation officer or law enforcement officer.
The acknowledgement signed by respondent stated: I have received a copy, read, and understand the above terms and conditions of probation and agree to abide by same.
The Supreme Court of California has long held that such an acknowledgement is a voluntary and enforceable consent to future searches because, under California law, a defendant may not be compelled to accept probation, but may insist instead on serving the term of confinement that is authorized by law.
Less than a week after respondent was placed on probation, State police came to suspect that he was involved in an act of vandalism against electric and telecommunications facilities that caused approximately $1.5 million in damage.
Relying on the search condition, police searched respondent's residence and found evidence implicating him in the crime.
Respondent was subsequently indicted in Federal court on charges of conspiracy to commit arson and being a felon in possession of ammunition.
Unidentified Justice: Now, Mr.... may I ask this question?
The actual search was conducted by State officers, as I understand it.
Mr. Stewart: That's correct.
Unidentified Justice: Do you think the consent would have applied equally to Federal officers?
Mr. Stewart: It would have.
By its terms, it said any probation officer or law enforcement officer.
I'm not aware of any cases in the California system in which the search condition has actually been invoked by a Federal officer, but I think it would apply by its terms to such searches.
Unidentified Justice: What about a law enforcement officer from Nevada?
Mr. Stewart: I... I think that's correct.
It's unlikely that such a search would occur because presumably one of the terms of probation would be that the... the respondent would be required to remain within the State of California, and it's... it's unlikely that he would be searched in California by Nevada officers.
But I think if... if such an unlikely scenario unfolded--
Unidentified Justice: Well, it could be on the basis of a preexisting criminal situation.
I mean, he might have committed a crime in Nevada 2 years ago.
Mr. Stewart: --That's correct.
It could have happened.
Unidentified Justice: But what do you think?
Would it apply to a Nevada officer as well, do you think?
Mr. Stewart: I think it would.
The consent would apply by its terms because it refers, without qualification, to any law enforcement officer.
Unidentified Justice: Well, I assume that... doesn't that reasonably mean a law enforcement officer who has authority?
Mr. Stewart: I mean, there might be some independent basis for objecting to the presence of the... the officer from outside the State, but I... I don't think that the consent would fail to extend to--
Unidentified Justice: Well, not... I mean, if you have consent, I assume it could be, you know, a law enforcement officer from Afghanistan.
Mr. Stewart: --Well, the... the Supreme Court--
Unidentified Justice: Don't you think the consent is reasonably understood to be limited to a law enforcement officer who has authority under the applicable law of the jurisdiction?
Mr. Stewart: --I think the... I think that may be right--
Unidentified Justice: Which would include a Federal officer--
Mr. Stewart: --And it might include--
Unidentified Justice: --but not... not an Afghan officer.
Mr. Stewart: --Well, it might... it might include a Nevada officer, and if... if under the circumstances Justice Stevens posits, there were actually authority for a Nevada officer to... to be on the premises.
In any event--
Unidentified Justice: Well, but isn't... doesn't your argument have an even narrower consequence?
Because part of your argument, which I... I want to go into, rests upon the fact that if he didn't consent, the State could... could commit him, could put him... put him in the house of correction.
And you're saying, well, a person, in effect, can consent to bargain his way out of that more... more serious imposition, but that suggests that the only thing that he's freely consenting to is the avoidance of something that the State could do to him.
The Federal Government couldn't do it to him.
Nevada couldn't to him, and Afghanistan couldn't do it to him.
So, doesn't... doesn't that suggest that the only thing that he's consenting to is what he has to consent to, and that is to let California people search him so he doesn't have to go behind bars now?
Mr. Stewart: --Well, the Supreme Court of California has construed the consent to... not to apply to searches that are conducted for purposes of harassment or in an unreasonable manner.
Unidentified Justice: Well, but what about my... what about my question?
If... if there is significance in the... in your argument, and I take it there is.
If there is significance in the fact that California can put him behind bars if he doesn't agree, doesn't it follow that his consent is likewise limited, i.e., limited to agreeing to let officers of the State that could put him behind bars search him?
Mr. Stewart: No.
I don't... I don't think that follows.
That is, the reason that California insists in many cases upon a waiver of Fourth Amendment rights as a condition of release on probation is that it wants to ensure that there will be no unnecessary barriers to monitoring the individual's compliance with the terms of his probation.
Unidentified Justice: That is to say monitoring by California.
Mr. Stewart: Well, it wouldn't... it would extend beyond monitoring by California, because one of the terms of probation is that the individual avoid violations of any criminal law.
That is, the individual would be in violation of his probation if he violated--
Unidentified Justice: Well, sure, I... I understand that, but it's California that monitors California probationers, isn't it?
It's not... it's not Federal probation officers and it's not Nevada probation officers.
Mr. Stewart: --Certainly California has the primary interest in ensuring that California probationers comply with the terms of their probation, but... but it would be a violation of the California probation for respondent or another probationer to violate Federal law.
Unidentified Justice: Oh, I... I realize that, but I'm just saying... well, let me... let me put the question to you blithely/blankly.
What is the significance for your argument in the fact that California could commit him?
Is... is... are you implicitly making the argument that because California could commit him, California could do something lesser than committing him; i.e., it could let him out subject to a limitation on Fourth Amendment rights?
Is... is that your argument?
Mr. Stewart: We're not making that argument all the way because there would be some possible--
Unidentified Justice: Because if you made that argument all the way there would be no significance in the... in the agreement, would there?
Mr. Stewart: --To take an example of--
Unidentified Justice: Would... would there?
If that were your argument, we would need an agreement.
Mr. Stewart: --I think that's right.
Unidentified Justice: Okay, so that's not your argument.
Mr. Stewart: And to take an--
Unidentified Justice: What then is the significance of the power of California to commit him?
Mr. Stewart: --I think the significance is that this is... that the defining characteristic of probationers is that they have recently been convicted of criminal offenses, and the premise of the institution of probation, as the Court said in Griffin, is that a probationer is more likely than the average citizen to violate the law.
And one possible way of dealing, obviously, with people who've recently been convicted of crimes is to incarcerate them to minimize the... the likelihood that they will commit future criminal offenses.
Unidentified Justice: All right.
Doesn't it boil down then to saying that the significance of the conviction is simply that it presents the occasion for this agreement and that it's the agreement that is really what is significant here?
Mr. Stewart: I mean, it--
Unidentified Justice: Everything stands or falls on the fact that there's an agreement.
Isn't that what your position boils down to?
Mr. Stewart: --Well, everything stands or falls on the fact that there is a conviction.
That is, it... we think it would be the case that even if--
Unidentified Justice: Well, if there were no conviction, there would be no occasion for the agreement.
They wouldn't be there.
They wouldn't be standing in court.
But once there is a conviction and the occasion has presented itself, I don't see what in your argument goes beyond the significance of the agreement itself.
Mr. Stewart: --We would say that even if there had been no agreement... that is, even if it were the case under California law, as it is under Federal law, that an individual who has no legal right to... that an individual has no legal right to refuse probation, even if probation were a sentence that were imposed upon the defendant without his consent... we... we would still argue that the search condition is a reasonable term of probation.
Unidentified Justice: Okay.
But in that case, you would be saying that because California had power to deal with him at that point, it had power, in effect, to limit his Fourth Amendment rights.
Mr. Stewart: Let me give an example of--
Unidentified Justice: No, but isn't... isn't that what you're saying?
Mr. Stewart: --That is almost what I'm saying, but let... let me give an--
Unidentified Justice: But there's no... I mean, there's no general rule across the board that I know of that because someone has been convicted, the State, in effect, can... can limit bill of rights entitlements as a general rule.
Mr. Stewart: --Let me give an example of why it's--
Unidentified Justice: Is... am I right on that?
Mr. Stewart: --I think that's right, and let me give an example of why we're not going quite all the way and why we think you're correct.
For instance, this Court held in Bell v. Wolfish, which is not cited in our brief, but it's in 441 U.S., that prison officials may preclude inmates from receiving hard cover books from persons other than booksellers or bookstores.
And the rationale for that restriction was that hard cover books could be used to smuggle contraband into the institution.
We think it's very unlikely that the State could impose a similar restriction on probationers because once an individual is allowed to circulate in the community, the likelihood that his receipt of hard cover books will add a meaningful increment of danger that he will possess contraband would be pretty insignificant.
Unidentified Justice: Right.
It's the specific relationship between the State and the prisoner at that time that governs, in effect, what the State can do to... to limit rights.
Mr. Stewart: That's correct.
Unidentified Justice: So, the same rule would apply in the State as... as probationary supervisor vis-a-vis probationer.
Mr. Stewart: That... that is correct.
Unidentified Justice: And doesn't it follow from that then that the State's right to limit is itself limited by the State's interest in supervising probation, as distinct from the State's interest as a general enforcer of the criminal law?
Mr. Stewart: --I think it's correct that the State has an interest.
I wouldn't quite put it as the State has an interest in supervising probation.
The State has an interest in seeing to it that adequate measures are taken to ensure that a probationer doesn't violate the terms of his conditional release.
And if... if one of the dangers that the State fears, when a probationer is released into the community, is that he may commit Federal crimes as... in addition to State crimes, it may reasonably choose to subject him, in effect, to increased monitoring by Federal officials by saying that he will have no right to demand the judicial warrant even as to searches by... by those officials.
So, we think that the... a term of release like that is reasonably related to the purposes and conditions--
Unidentified Justice: Okay.
Does that... does that mean then, at this point in the argument, that you're relying on the State's power as... as the... as the State vis-a-vis a convict for your position rather than the convict's agreement for your position?
Mr. Stewart: --We... we are relying on both.
We are saying--
Unidentified Justice: But what does it... I mean, if... if your last argument is sound, what does the agreement add?
Mr. Stewart: --I mean, the agreement provides an additional check, an additional means of assurance that the conditions of probation are not unduly onerous.
Unidentified Justice: Isn't the... isn't the agreement, if you're going to talk about it in realistic terms, simply notice?
This is not something that the prisoner can negotiate.
This is a package deal.
This is what probation is.
If you're on probation, these are the conditions.
So, doesn't that... that agreement... the word agreement seems to me not quite right to describe a situation where the defendant really has no choice.
This is probation.
This is the package that comes with probation and that's it.
Mr. Stewart: --We would--
Unidentified Justice: Well, doesn't the prisoner have the power to say, no, I don't want probation?
Usually that extends much longer than a jail term.
I'd rather go to jail.
I know when I used to sentence criminal defendants, many times they'd make that choice.
They'd say I'd rather take a short jail sentence and get the government out of my business than to accept a longer probation term on these conditions.
Don't they make a choice sometimes?
Mr. Stewart: --It happens rarely but it does happen.
And it is an agreement.
That is, the individual admittedly is faced with two options--
Unidentified Justice: All right.
What about the person for whom there is no jail term?
And I think you conceded there is a category where probation is the only punishment.
Mr. Stewart: --No.
Probation may be the only punishment that is actually imposed in a particular case, but we... we certainly don't concede in this case that the individual had no choice.
The individual could have insisted upon--
Unidentified Justice: But you're... you're asking for a rule across the board.
And so, I'm asking you, what about the category of case for which the prescribed punishment is probation?
Mr. Stewart: --It's... you're... you're correct.
In the Federal system, for instance, where an individual doesn't have the choice to refuse probation, it may be that a condition of this sort would still be upheld.
We would argue that it would, but it could not be on a consent theory.
We would agree with you on that.
And to return to Justice O'Connor's point--
Unidentified Justice: Was this a case where the defendant had to be placed on probation?
Was there not a jail term that could have been imposed here?
Mr. Stewart: --There... there was a jail term.
The statute provided for up to a year in prison or up to 3 years' probation, and the individual was placed on probation for a period of 3 years.
And this Court has often recognized, in the context of plea bargaining--
Unidentified Justice: Can I just... excuse me.
Just one... is it not true, though, that the Wisconsin... the... the... California could have insisted on the 3-year probation?
Mr. Stewart: --Yes.
Unidentified Justice: Okay.
Mr. Stewart: I'm sorry.
No, it couldn't have insisted on the 3-year probation.
That is, if the... if the--
Unidentified Justice: Is... is that possible in California that--
Mr. Stewart: --No.
Unidentified Justice: --a person could be placed on probation without a willingness to be placed on probation?
Is there no choice given to the person convicted?
Mr. Stewart: No.
In California, the individual could insist on imprisonment.
He couldn't insist on probation.
That is, if the judge had wanted to sentence him to prison, he couldn't have said, no, I'll take the 3-year probationary term instead.
But he could insist on imprisonment and could refuse to be placed on probation.
And as the Court has often recognized in the plea bargaining context, often defendants will plead guilty because they're faced with unattractive options.
Unidentified Justice: The relevance of this is... escapes me slightly because I... I wonder what... I mean, you may have plenty of power to impose the condition you want.
That's a different issue.
But as far as consenting is concerned, don't people get searched in prison?
Mr. Stewart: Yes.
Unidentified Justice: Okay.
And don't they get searched out of prison under this?
Mr. Stewart: Yes.
Unidentified Justice: Then what's his choice in respect to search?
Mr. Stewart: Well, his choice... I mean, he... the likelihood is that as a practical matter, he will have more privacy when on probation than... than when he is in... than if he were in prison.
But you're right.
As a legal matter, he is subject to searches without any requirement of individualized--
Unidentified Justice: To say he consents to search without his consent is like saying I consent to being a human being.
Mr. Stewart: --No.
I mean, to take... to take the example of... of plea bargaining, if an individual pleads guilty to a criminal offense--
Unidentified Justice: Yes, I grant you he concedes... he can choose whether to be in prison or out of prison.
Mr. Stewart: --But in the--
Unidentified Justice: He can't choose whether to be searched or not be searched.
Mr. Stewart: --That's correct.
But in the plea bargaining context, if an individual pleads guilty to an offense because his understanding is he'll be sentenced to 10 years in prison and he does it because he thinks that if he goes to trial, he'll be sentenced to 20 years in prison, I mean, you could say in a sense that either way he's going to be placed in prison, so what's the choice?
But the Court has recognized that to be a meaningful choice.
The fact that the options are unattractive doesn't negate the volitional element.
Unidentified Justice: If he's in prison, can the police then go to his premises?
Suppose he had been put in jail and not let out because they suspected that he had done something much more serious.
And then the law enforcement officer goes into his house, no warrant, finds all the same damning material.
Could... could that be done without a warrant when the man is not there?
Mr. Stewart: No.
No, unless some other exception to the warrant requirement applied.
Unidentified Justice: So, if he were in jail, that's the way he would have of protecting his house against entry without a warrant.
Mr. Stewart: I mean... and, you know, to look at it that way, you could say that probation is disadvantageous because, as Justice O'Connor pointed out, it may extend for a longer period of time.
The point here is not that the individual, in choosing probation, doesn't give up anything that he might have had had he chosen prison.
The point is that each of the options has both attractive and unattractive features and the individual has the choice--
Unidentified Justice: Mr. Stewart, can I ask you this question?
I really want to understand the Government's position.
It seems to me... maybe they don't do it.
I thought they did, but a State could have a... a law that says if you violate this statute, your punishment shall be 60 days in jail and a year of probation.
They could do that, and that's the only... only alternative so that there is no element of consent whatsoever on the part of the defendant, but the statute provides you have to subject to it.
And would your argument apply equally to that case and to this case?
Mr. Stewart: --No, it would not.
That is, we... we would still take the position that such a term was reasonable, but it would be a pure special needs case.
We would not... if the individual had no choice but to be placed on probation, there would not be a consent theory available to us.
Unidentified Justice: If we follow your suggested line of decision and say that this was a consented-to search, can we write the opinion without citing Griffin?
Mr. Stewart: I... I assume that you would cite Griffin, but I don't think that there is anything in our position that is inconsistent with Griffin.
Unidentified Justice: We don't need Griffin under your view.
Mr. Stewart: --That's correct.
We... I think the part of Griffin that is particularly helpful to us is the first part of Griffin that explained why supervision and monitoring of probationers is a State interest distinct from enforcement of the criminal law.
Unidentified Justice: But Griffin was not a consent case.
Mr. Stewart: That's correct.
There was no allegation in Griffin that the individual had a right to refuse probation.
And I think even in the circumstances presented in Griffin where the individual was placed on probation without his choice, the Court was careful not to suggest that the features of the constitutional... the features of the Wisconsin scheme were necessarily constitutional prerequisites to a valid process.
In particular, in footnote 2 of the Griffin opinion, the Court noted that the test for restrictions within the prison is whether they are reasonably related to a legitimate penological objective.
Unidentified Justice: Do we say that the consent has to be for a search that is substantially related to the purposes of the probation; i.e., the hypothetical probation for 3 years but you give up your Fourth Amendment rights for life?
Mr. Stewart: I mean, I think... yes, I think we would say that for the... for the consent to be valid, the individual's waiver of rights needs to bear some reasonable relationship to the fact that he's on probation.
For instance, we've said in our brief that the State presumably could not condition release on probation on an individual's agreement to refrain from criticizing the Government or to refrain from engaging in religious worship.
Unidentified Justice: Once you--
--Is that an unconstitutional conditions analysis?
Mr. Stewart: I think that's correct, that the... the Court has said that ordinarily even when the Government has discretion to grant or withhold a benefit entirely, it may not grant it on a relinquishment of constitutional rights that bears no reasonable relationship to the program at issue.
So, because a probationer's criticism of the Government would impair no legitimate Government interests, would cause no damage distinct from any other individual's criticism of the Government, the strong inference would be that a State that imposed that condition was simply trying to stifle dissent and was attempting to use the probation condition as a hook.
Unidentified Justice: Once you say that, I don't see what is to be gained by drawing the... the big distinction that you attempt to draw between consent and nonconsent.
Once you've... once you've made that... that line that it has to be related to the Government's not just penological interest, because it's certainly a punishment not to be able to criticize the Government... I guess one of the punishments of being in prison, for example, is... is the inability to have sexual relationships with... with your spouse.
But I... I assume you would say that the Government could not sentence to you to 5 years in prison plus another 5 years for no sexual relationships with your spouse.
Mr. Stewart: Right.
Unidentified Justice: So, somehow the... the... it can't be a punishment.
What is attached after the prison term has to be related to assuring the safety of the society from the individual, which this search condition would.
But once you say that it has to be connected that way, what do you gain by saying there has to be consent?
Mr. Stewart: Well, I think the consent--
Unidentified Justice: I mean, consent or no consent, if it's... if it's connected up in that way, why isn't it valid?
Mr. Stewart: --I mean, we have... we have said... I mean, I've said today that we would be here defending the condition even if it were imposed on a defendant who had no option to refuse probation.
So, we would agree that the... the existence of consent is not in our view outcome determinative.
However, the... the fact that the individual has the choice whether to accept probation or to insist on incarceration does provide an additional check, an additional assurance that the condition is not unduly onerous.
Unidentified Justice: The constitutional rights he can give up are related to the purpose of the enforcement.
So, could you require him to give up his Miranda rights?
And my next question would be, could you require him to give up his right to be free from coerced confession by brutal torture?
Mr. Stewart: No.
I mean, there would be... there would be no interest--
Unidentified Justice: Well, you get... you get information out of people sometimes by applying the screw.
I mean, there's a Government interest there and I don't... what is--
Mr. Stewart: --I don't... I don't think the... the legitimacy of using those particular methods to attempt to solve as yet unanticipated crimes would vary depending on whether the individual is a probationer or not.
Unidentified Justice: --Can you consent to torture?
Can you consent to the elimination of your Miranda rights?
Wouldn't it... wouldn't it suffice for your case to say that the State can take away any of the constitutional rights related to the... the probationary nature of the... of... of the punishment?
Any of those rights that a person can waive?
Mr. Stewart: I think that's probably at least, if not exactly, the--
Unidentified Justice: I don't think you can waive your rights to torture.
But you can certainly waive your right to Miranda, and you could waive your right to save questioning for 3 days in a... in a cell.
Everything isn't torture.
Mr. Stewart: --Well, you can... you can waive the rights that are explained to you in the... in the Miranda colloquy.
That's a different thing from saying you can waive your right to be informed of... of those rights.
And to further elucidate what to us is the significance of consent, if the terms of probation under California law were much more severe... for instance, if the probationary period were 15 years rather than 3 or if one of the conditions of probation was that an individual had video cameras mounted in his residence so he could be observed at all times... at a certain point, you'd get to a situation where lots of probationers would decide that incarceration is better than this.
Unidentified Justice: May I ask another question?
To what extent is the waiver of Fourth Amendment rights total in your view?
Could he, for example... could you say he's waived his right to every 6-hour body cavity searches, for example, very extreme and intrusive searches?
Mr. Stewart: I mean, he... he doesn't under California law.
That is, the California Supreme Court has interpreted the consent condition as not applying to searches conducted in an arbitrary or unreasonable manner or for purposes of harassment.
And there is a statute in the California penal code governing the situations under which strip searches may be conducted.
Unidentified Justice: Do you think that statute is constitutionally compelled?
Mr. Stewart: I mean, there... there may be rare situations in which an individual's consent... blanket consent to searches could be enforced with--
Unidentified Justice: In other words, he can waive his right to be free from unreasonable searches, but not from very unreasonable searches.
Mr. Stewart: --I mean, certainly the... the type of... there... there would have to be some justification for performing the search based on the fact that he was a probationer, but again--
Unidentified Justice: I'll look at the laws.
I had thought that under California law, for a second drug offense or a third drug offense, you can get lifetime probation.
So, would you say... let's say for a second offense, assuming you could have probation for 20 years or a lifetime, the Fourth Amendment right could be surrendered for that long?
Mr. Stewart: --I mean, I think if it were for a third offense, I think yes.
I think the State could legitimately make the judgment that a person who has three times been convicted of drug offenses was, for the rest of his life, meaningfully more likely to violate the criminal law than the average citizen.
If you talked about another type of extreme example... for instance, upon conviction for a traffic violation, you'll be placed on lifetime probation under which you can be searched at any time... I think it would be probably be irrational for the State to say simply because you were convicted of a traffic violation, we will regard you 20 years down the road as being more likely than the average citizen to violate the law.
But the... the point I was making about the... the potential terms of probation becoming more onerous, if we got to a situation where because the conditions of probation were especially harsh, large numbers of probationers decided that incarceration is better than this, then the... an individual defendant's right to choose between the two alternatives would have obvious significance.
It would provide an obvious degree of... of comfort that the... that what was being placed upon him, if he chose probation, was not unconstitutionally onerous.
Unidentified Justice: How long back does the consent or the notice apply?
Suppose the law enforcement officer is investigating a crime that occurred before the defendant was apprehended on the charge for which the sentence is probation.
So, here the last act of vandalism occurred after the probation sentence.
Suppose all the vandalism acts had occurred before he was picked up for drug possession.
Mr. Stewart: I think the consent would apply, by its terms, to that situation, and it would be constitutional.
Unidentified Justice: And then you couldn't have the purpose, well, we want to see that from the day he's put on probation, he's not living a life of crime.
This would have been before.
So, it would be hard to connect it with a probation purpose.
Mr. Stewart: I agree that the link between the search that you describe and the... the monitoring of compliance with the conditions of probation would be more tenuous.
In this case, as you point out, the... the search was intended to and did produce evidence of a crime that was committed after the individual was placed on probation.
If I may, I'd like to reserve the remainder of my time.
Unidentified Justice: Very well, Mr. Stewart.
Ms. Fox, we'll hear from you.
ORAL ARGUMENT OF HILARY A. FOX ON BEHALF OF THE RESPONDENT
Mr. Fox: Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:
Respondent's argument has two major points.
First, on the facts of this case, the Government has failed to establish that there was an effective consent to search.
But second, even if the Government could establish consent, California's blanket search condition, which purports to permit searches at any time of the day or night, by any law enforcement officer, for any reason or no reason, is unenforceable.
With regard to the first issue, the basis for the counsel argument here is a one-page probation order.
Mr. Knights' signature appears on the order beneath a two-line advisement of rights.
The... the first line advises him that, should he satisfactorily complete probation, he may ask to have his conviction set aside, and the second sentence confirms that he has received, read, and understood the terms and conditions of probation and agrees to abide by same.
Beneath that is a line for defendant's signature, acknowledgement of receipt.
As Justice Ginsburg suggested earlier, this is a notice provision.
This is not an effective consent.
Unidentified Justice: Well, does it... does it say?
Does it use the term consent?
Mr. Fox: --No, Your Honor, I don't believe it does.
Unidentified Justice: Is it somewhere in the record?
Mr. Fox: Yes.
It's at page 50 of the joint appendix, Your Honor.
Unidentified Justice: Thank you.
I don't even think he agrees to them.
He agrees to abide by them.
He agrees to abide by the conditions.
Mr. Fox: Exactly, agrees to abide by same, meaning the conditions.
Unidentified Justice: Well, that's certainly an agreement.
Whether you'd call it consent or not, it's an agreement.
Mr. Fox: It does say agree, Your Honor.
Unidentified Justice: Well, I'm not saying it just says that.
If he signs it, it is an agreement, is it not?
Mr. Fox: Well, Your Honor, I'm... I'm not sure that's an accurate way to characterize it, in that with this probation order, we don't know when or where Mr. Knights signed it.
There's no evidence.
Unidentified Justice: Well, does it make a difference?
Mr. Fox: Well, I think, Your Honor, it does in terms of was this an order of the court... it's called a probation order... that was imposed on him.
Unidentified Justice: But... but he... he has signed his name saying he agrees to abide by it.
Isn't that the case?
Mr. Fox: That's correct, Your Honor.
That's why I was going to refer then to the Bumper case, which I think is very instructive as to whether this type of agreement is an enforceable consent.
In Bumper v. North Carolina, of course, Mrs. Bumper did agree to... consent to a search of her house, but that's because she thought that the searching officers had lawful authority to search her house.
So, the Court concluded that her consent under those circumstances was nothing more than acquiescence to a show of lawful authority.
In this case--
Unidentified Justice: When, in fact, the lawful... the authority was not lawful.
Mr. Fox: --Exactly.
And our argument here, Your Honor, is that the probation order with form conditions, one box checked being a search condition, sets forth a blanket search condition that is not constitutional and not enforceable, but that Mr. Knights, in agreeing to it, would have had no way of knowing--
Unidentified Justice: Well, in Bumpers, the premise for lawful authority was established without reference to the argument at hand.
Here you're assuming... you're assuming the premise.
Mr. Fox: --That's correct, Your Honor.
In fact, it's my second point.
Unidentified Justice: So that Bumpers doesn't work.
Mr. Fox: Well, I... I think it does if you... of course, you then accept the second point which is was this blanket search authority constitutional.
My position is that under Griffin, clearly it's not.
An easy way to understand that is that this condition is not limited by its terms to probationary searches in that it--
Unidentified Justice: Well, but Griffin is a special needs case and you might argue that this is... has... that if we have a special needs dichotomy, we have to expand somewhat the holding of... of Griffin.
But Griffin, I don't think, discussed consent.
As I understand it, it as not a consent case.
Here it's a consent case.
Mr. Fox: --Yes, Your Honor.
What... what the Government, I believe, conceded is that even if they don't rely on Griffin, they do have to... have to acknowledge some or find some rational relationship between the condition and the needs of the probation.
And here, California in the Supreme Court has construed this condition in the Woods case, which I cited in my brief, to authorize searches targeted at third parties who are not on probation.
Unidentified Justice: We wouldn't have to... we wouldn't have to accept that, would we?
Mr. Fox: Well, I believe, Your Honor, under Griffin the Court would look to--
Unidentified Justice: I mean, can't we say that's totally wrong or say that this has nothing to do with this case?
What about... what about leaving that out?
Mr. Fox: --You could, Your Honor.
I was only going to say that... that we usually look to California law to fix the meaning of the--
Unidentified Justice: No, no.
That's the meaning.
Does this involve such a search?
Mr. Fox: --No, it doesn't.
Unidentified Justice: Okay.
So, we could say, applied to such a search, it's unconstitutional.
What about this case?
Mr. Fox: In this case--
Unidentified Justice: And suppose I say you're right about consent.
Consent has nothing to do with it, that this is a punishment.
One of the objectives of punishment is what used to be called incapacitation, what's now called specific deterrence.
Many think that's the main purpose of punishment, to incapacitate this person.
We incapacitate him in prison and we do it, in part, by searching him randomly.
What about a halfway house?
What about home confinement?
What about probation where he is at home?
Why would we not have the same kind of incapacitation there that we have in prison, indeed, a less severe form?
Mr. Fox: --Well, Your Honor, the... Your Honor's argument suggests somewhat the greater versus the lesser--
Unidentified Justice: No, it doesn't.
Mr. Fox: --argument that was raised earlier.
Unidentified Justice: Nothing to do with greater versus lesser.
I'll take greater/greater.
When people are in prison, they are incapacitated from committing further crime.
That's the purpose of punishment, a major purpose.
So, why can't a State say, I am going to punish you for, in part, the same purpose, to incapacitate you while you are being punished, and I will do the same thing we do in prison in respect to that?
What we do in respect to that in prison is we search you randomly.
When you are in the halfway house, you will be searched randomly.
When you are confined to your house, you will be searched randomly.
When you are on probation, you will be searched randomly.
Now, my question is, why in each of those instances can the State not do the same thing?
Mr. Fox: Because, Your Honor, the rationale for the limitation of prisoners' Fourth Amendment rights... and they would apply also to individuals at halfway houses... is not that we take away rights as a punishment.
Rather, what the Court has held is that recognition of a privacy right in a cell is incompatible with the unique needs--
Unidentified Justice: I... I thought... then you're saying we should... if I were to tell you in my experience, which is somewhat in this area... I've had experience... that one of the purposes of punishment is incapacitation, and you're saying that we couldn't have a punishment that would be designed to do that by searching... by searching people's cells randomly to be sure that they're not committing crimes in... in a prison in order to make sure... I mean, I... I had thought... I'm not positive, but I had thought that that was an important purpose.
Mr. Fox: --Yes, it is a purpose of punishment, Your Honor.
What I'm, I think, relying on in part is that in Griffin this Court has previously held that probationers do have Fourth Amendment rights, and that a probationer's home, like anyone else's, is protected by the Fourth Amendment.
Unidentified Justice: I'm not sure the Government has even argued what Justice Breyer is suggesting, namely that I... it follows from what he's suggesting that you could have... you could sentence somebody to nothing but the incapacitation of forfeiting their Fourth Amendment rights.
That is, I sentence to you 10 years of, you know, warrantless searches and seizures.
That actually isn't my question.
My question is designed to show you... to suggest that there is a purpose in searches that is related to a basic aim of punishment.
Mr. Fox: Certainly, Your Honor.
Unidentified Justice: And so my... my point is to suggest to you to ask... answer me as to why that same purpose doesn't apply when, in fact, the person is on probation.
I may have overstated the case.
I obviously misled Justice Scalia.
And so, I will confine, not overstate so that you can answer.
Mr. Fox: Your Honor, my answer would be that any sentence imposed must be imposed within constitutional limitations, and in this case, I think Griffin is an essential case because Griffin helps us see what are the constitutional limitations on probationers' Fourth Amendment rights.
Obviously, the Fourth Amendment would dictate that police searches have... be based upon a warrant, issued upon probable cause, and Griffin, like TLO against New Jersey, and the other special needs cases issued since, recognized that there is a limited class of cases in which special needs, beyond the normal needs of general law enforcement, make the warrant and probable cause requirements impractical.
And what I would say is that for a general law enforcement search, the Fourth Amendment tells us that a warrant and probable cause are not impractical by definition.
So, what we have in the probation context is a special need of probation supervision, a dual need that... that includes both the monitoring and protection of the community, which is the Government's main focus, but in addition, rehabilitation.
And I submit to you that if it were only that single focus of protecting the community, it would not be a special need beyond the general needs of law enforcement.
Unidentified Justice: Are you saying, in effect, yes, Justice Breyer, you... the Government could have a... a regime of probation in which they subject you to random searches, but what the Government cannot do is have a regime of probation in which you are subjected to nonrandom searches, searches conducted not in supervision of probationers, but searches conducted in the investigation of specific crimes, and in the later case, the... the Government ought to follow normal Fourth Amendment standards?
Is that, in effect, your answer?
Mr. Fox: Well, no, not quite, Your Honor, because I don't believe that the Court should or would dispense with the reasonable suspicion requirement in this situation.
There are, of course, very cases--
Unidentified Justice: Okay, add that to his hypo: random searches with reasonable suspicion.
You would then say, sure, you can have a regime like that.
But this is not a case that involves the... the exercise of that kind of power because in this case, you weren't having random searches for probation supervision based on... on reasonable suspicion.
You were having a full-blown law enforcement kind of search, and you should have gotten a Fourth Amendment warrant.
Mr. Fox: --I believe that's... that is correct.
Unidentified Justice: --That's exactly where I am.
That's better... that's exactly where I am.
But then if that's so, how do you distinguish this particular case?
Why wasn't there reasonable suspicion?
Mr. Fox: You may have gotten ahead of me.
The... first, the district court found reasonable suspicion and we disputed that, but that's the district court's factual finding.
That alone, at least under Griffin, is not enough to make it a valid special needs search.
This was a police investigatory search as part of a 2-year investigation conducted without a warrant, without probable cause.
So, for... for it to be a proper probationary search under Griffin, we believe it would have to satisfy other requirements.
First, it would have to be, Griffin suggests, done at the direction of or with the advice of a probation officer to show that the search was, in fact, somehow related to the programmatic purpose of probation supervision.
Unidentified Justice: Well, that... that's part of my problem with your argument.
Why isn't it part of the programmatic purpose of probation to ensure that, A, he doesn't use drugs, and B, he doesn't violate other laws?
Mr. Fox: --For this reason, Your Honor.
In Griffin, when it talked about the importance of deterrence and... and searches to ensure that the probationer is compliant, the Court undertook a balancing of the degree of intrusion and the importance of the need.
And central to the first factor, the degree of intrusion, was that the search was only being performed by a probation officer.
The balancing turned out to be constitutional because it was not a police officer conducting a police search.
Unidentified Justice: Well, Griffin upheld a search by a probation officer.
I really don't think it answered all these questions.
I don't think it answered this question.
And it is a concern to me that the whole thrust of releasing someone on probation after a conviction of a serious crime is to try to prevent that person from committing other crimes, to try to encourage the person to lead a law-abiding life for a sufficient period of time that he can be totally released at the end of the day with safety to the public.
And so, this is terribly important that you provide a deterrent to people not to commit further crimes, and that is exactly what this probation term is all about.
Why isn't that eminently reasonable?
Mr. Fox: Your Honor, three reasons.
The first is--
Unidentified Justice: And this very case, this person was found to have all kinds of indications of having been planning and perhaps having committed a number of very serious offenses while on probation.
Mr. Fox: --Your Honor, now I remember two of the reasons.
The first is that this probation was imposed on... on my client after a conviction for a misdemeanor, and the Government's arguments, and the amici arguments in particular, rely tremendously on the recidivism rates for felony offenders and felony probationers and fail to point out that in fact the recidivism rate for misdemeanant probationers is substantially lower.
So, I think the... the magnitude of the threat that's been suggested to the Court has not been borne out by the facts.
Unidentified Justice: Are you suggesting then we draw a line depending upon how serious the offense is?
If you don't commit a serious offense, but if you... however, at some probation you could attach this condition and other probation you couldn't?
Mr. Fox: Your Honor, this condition... I... no.
And I'll get to that in a minute.
I don't believe it would ever be... I can't imagine when it would be an appropriate condition in light of the underpinnings of the Fourth Amendment and our Constitution abhorrence for a regime of unfettered search discretion.
And I think that's what I'd like to get with Justice O'Connor.
But I do think that the magnitude of the threat, the Court said in Edmonds, is never determinative--
Unidentified Justice: Well, then... then one would never know.
A police officer would never know how a court was going to react to a search on reasonable suspicion like this.
He... he would have to evaluate for himself how serious the offense was versus all the other balancing?
Mr. Fox: --No, absolutely not, Your Honor.
The... the decision making would come at the time that the court imposed sentence.
Now, because what I was going to get to with Justice O'Connor is that, you know, fundamentally the Fourth Amendment was, as the Court is well aware, adopted for many reasons, but primarily in reaction to a system of general warrants, writs of assistance, in which petty officials could invade citizens' homes at will.
That unfettered search--
Unidentified Justice: Citizens who had not been convicted of crimes and who had not been placed on probation.
Mr. Fox: --Yes.
Unidentified Justice: This person is in a different status.
Mr. Fox: Yes, and it's only because he's a probationer that he can be searched without a warrant at all.
Were he not a probationer, of course, he couldn't be searched by anyone, let alone a probation officer.
But to get back to the Justice's question, oh, it's not for the officer in the field to determine.
The point is that the court, in imposing sentence... and the First Circuit has gone into this in the Gianetta case, which we cite... has... Gianetta suggested that where you have a State that has failed to establish any kind of regulatory scheme, such as the Wisconsin scheme, that would limit the search discretion and indicate when searches were appropriate, then in that case, a judge could still impose a search condition, but it would be appropriate for the judge to make some kind of factual findings--
Unidentified Justice: But... but I take it then a judge's finding wouldn't be conclusive necessarily.
It could be attacked collaterally as not having been part of a system or having been an erroneous application of the system?
Mr. Fox: --No, I... I think what the judge would... would do, in addition to making findings, is to impose a--
Unidentified Justice: Well, but I'm talking--
Mr. Fox: --narrowly tailored search condition.
Unidentified Justice: --Yes, but I'm talking to you about a situation where the judge says, you know, perhaps not consistently with the system, but he says, in this particular case, this person is subject to search on reasonable suspicion.
And the... the judge says that, recognizing that he has to balance perhaps the seriousness of the offense, and he says, I balance it this way.
Now, when the person is searched and that evidence is sought to be admitted at his trial, can the order of the judge be collaterally attacked by saying this judge just didn't reach the right balance in this case?
Mr. Fox: Well, yes, Your Honor, though I don't mean to suggest, in fact, that a condition that simply required reasonable suspicion and did not ensure that it was going to be probationary searches, would be constitutional because the exception that we're talking with here, to the Fourth Amendment, is a special needs exception.
And that... that's what Griffin relied on.
And you only get to a special needs exception if the searches that are being conducted are special need searches.
Unidentified Justice: Well, Griffin relied on that but did not say that there's... that's the only condition.
It... it said the Wisconsin Supreme Court had... had adopted a... a different principle, and we said... we begin the opinion, we think the Wisconsin Supreme Court correctly concluded that this warrantless search could not violate the Fourth Amendment.
To reach that result, however, we find it unnecessary to embrace a new principle of law, as the Wisconsin court evidently did, that any search of a probationer's home by a... satisfy the Fourth Amendment.
We just didn't... didn't consider whether we needed that new principle of law and maybe that new principle of law is at issue in this case.
Mr. Fox: Well, two answers to that, Your Honor.
Unidentified Justice: So, I mean, don't... don't... I don't think Griffin precludes us from--
Mr. Fox: No, it doesn't.
However, I would point out first that Griffin, even the... the Wisconsin Supreme Court was only talking about searches by probation officers.
So, the issue--
Unidentified Justice: --Why... why does that... I mean, what's bothering me from a policy perspective is there are a whole range of punishments called intermediate punishments, which perhaps should be encouraged, and they include things like boot camp... not boot camps, but halfway houses, home confinement, night and weekend confinement, and probation.
That's one of them.
And so, why is it unreasonable for the State to say we want to encourage this kind of thing, but part of it has to be checkups on people to make certain that they're not committing crimes?
And the condition that you have checked here in the... in the form is simply one of those conditions that would help encourage, and indeed make more sensible, this kind of range of intermediate punishments.
Mr. Fox: --Well, Your Honor, as we point out in our brief, the... the intermediate sanction programs, which have been implemented, I hope effectively, across this country by different States that are cited by amicus... several of the amici... not a single program relies on random searches by police.
It is simply not a component of an effective intensive supervision program, let alone a regular probation system, in any State.
Unidentified Justice: I thought there were some other States, in addition to California, that had as a condition of probation that you... your premises can be searched to determine whether you are continuing... whether you are engaged in crime.
I did not think California was alone in that respect.
Mr. Fox: Your Honor, apart from California, I'm aware only of Virginia as having approved a blanket search condition such as this with no limitations for individualized suspicion and no limitation to the probation officer.
Many States permit probation officers, as part of their duties, to conduct home searches.
Unidentified Justice: Well, if we put individual suspicion... there was reasonable suspicion in this case.
If you admit that one of the purposes of probation is to monitor the person to make sure that they are now off their bottle, they're no longer committing crimes, if that's a purpose of probation, then why isn't this an entirely reasonable condition to say we have to check up on you to see that you're not engaging in crime anymore?
Mr. Fox: Because it's disproportionate.
Because what this condition purports to do, even if we... if we put back a reasonable suspicion requirement, it still gives police unfettered discretion, randomly, arbitrarily, as often as they want, for no reason or any reason to go into, as they did in this case, Mr. Knights' home--
Unidentified Justice: Well, but counsel for the Government represents to us that the State of California says that this cannot be used for harassment.
Mr. Fox: --They do say that, Your Honor, although there's not a single--
Unidentified Justice: That's their argument.
So, it's not... so, it is not completely arbitrary.
Mr. Fox: --Yes.
I... I'm not sure whether arbitrary and harassing are the same, in that if there's no requirement of individualized suspicion, then it would seem to me that there's certainly a broad range of--
Unidentified Justice: And there was... there was reasonable suspicion here.
Mr. Fox: --Yes, yes.
I understand that in our case.
Unidentified Justice: I mean, we just don't have the extreme here.
And... and with the help of hindsight, it looked like an eminently reasonable search, for goodness sakes.
Mr. Fox: Well, Your Honor, looking again at the facts of our particular case, that officer, Detective Hancock, had over 12 hours during which he prepared to do this search.
So, it's clearly not a search that had exigent circumstances attached to it.
It's also not a search for which he couldn't have gotten a warrant.
In his own view, Detective Hancock believed he could have gotten a warrant, and in fact, he--
Unidentified Justice: Well, that's a perfectly good argument against searching someone who's not on probation, but it doesn't deal with your case to say they could have gotten a warrant and it wasn't exigent circumstances.
Mr. Fox: --Right.
I guess what I was thinking is it shows that... that expanding the Griffin probation search condition, special needs doctrine, is not necessary to enable Detective Hancock to search because he could have searched a different way.
If the Court is considering going beyond Griffin and endowing police with--
Unidentified Justice: Well, you say... you say going beyond Griffin, I mean, Griffin described the Wisconsin system at some length, but I don't think, as Justice Scalia suggested, that we implied that every single facet of the Wisconsin system was necessary to its constitutionality.
Mr. Fox: --Certainly not, Your Honor, and I... and I have not sought to represent that.
But what Griffin... if Griffin means anything, what it does mean is that there is some line between a probationary search and a nonprobationary, general search.
Unidentified Justice: Griffin means Wisconsin can do what Wisconsin was doing.
That's what it means.
Mr. Fox: --Yes.
But it's not a one-line opinion that says--
Unidentified Justice: And it's very hard to take a case that the defendant loses... where there's a Fourth Amendment claim that he loses and say, aha, but in the next case, he'll win because the court confined itself to the situation before it.
Mr. Fox: --That's... that's correct, Your Honor.
But I... I believe the Griffin analysis, in going through first considering who conducts the search, second, considering the presence or absence of reasonable suspicion, and then third, concluding that it's conducted in conformance with the regulatory scheme that itself limits discretion and is therefore constitutional--
Unidentified Justice: That's because we were not interested in... in contemplating the creation of any new constitutional law.
We said this can all be fit into prior constitutional law on... on the basis of the special needs doctrine.
But we didn't intimate that if the special needs doctrine did not apply, the thing was necessarily unconstitutional.
We didn't intimate that at all.
We just were not interested in going any further than we had to.
May I ask you one question that I've been pondering about during the argument and don't know what the answer is?
Do you think it would be unconstitutional for a State legislature to decide that we don't want to put drug offenders in prison anymore, but we do want to impose on them, in haec verba, condition 9 of the probation order here and that... and pass a statute and say all drug offenders who are convicted of possession of illegal drugs shall have to submit to that provision?
Mr. Fox: --Your Honor, I think it's a close question.
The... the Court might well uphold it, although I might argue against it, for this reason.
The condition permits random drug searches.
Unidentified Justice: Correct.
Mr. Fox: Now, that's clearly, I think, constitutional if they were conducted by the probation department.
There's no reasonable suspicion requirement, but in various cases, this Court has repeatedly held that detection of drug abuse may be a situation in which we dispense with individualized suspicion because it's difficult to detect always signs of inebriation.
This condition does appear to require an individual to submit to police searches.
Unidentified Justice: Right, but it seems to me that's less intrusive than going to jail.
Mr. Fox: --It's... well, again, I would never use less intrusive than jail as a standard of assessing the constitutionality of a probation condition because certainly a condition that the defendant pay money to the opposing party or the district attorney would be less onerous than jail, but doesn't answer whether it's constitutional.
So, the Fourth Amendment analysis that this Court--
Unidentified Justice: Well, it does in a way because what the... the net result of a criminal conviction is a loss of liberty, and the question is which liberties can you be deprived of and so forth.
So, there's a definite relationship.
Mr. Fox: --All right.
Unidentified Justice: And you're saying that you can lose your liberty by going to jail, but you can't lose this lesser liberty.
I know every lesser included argument doesn't prevail, but I don't... I'm not at all sure why this one doesn't.
Mr. Fox: It might.
It would be, again, a different case.
It would be an interesting case.
But it may be again that the intrusion on privacy required of urine testing or that you'd lose as a result of urine testing is minimal compared to the kind of invasion of privacy we're talking about here.
Unidentified Justice: I don't see why it's magic that... that a probation officer has to do it.
I mean, there are certain objectives that... that the probation officer has in common with the law enforcement officer, and... and one of them is to prevent individuals from committing additional crimes.
And what difference does it make whether it's a probation officer or a law enforcement officer that is pursuing that purpose?
Mr. Fox: Your Honor--
Unidentified Justice: What about a State that doesn't have probation officers?
You mean States have to have probation officers?
Suppose... suppose they just say we don't feel any need for special probation officers.
Mr. Fox: --Well, this I think is the important distinction between probation and police, and it's a two-part answer.
First, under Scott, this Court has recognized that police have different objectives than probation officers.
And so to the extent that we're talking about a... to an extent, we are talking about a special needs programmatic exception.
Certainly when the search is conducted by a probation officer, under Scott, the Court will presume that the probation officer has a probationary objective; whereas, again under Scott, a police search does not have as its goal ascertaining compliance with probation or parole conditions.
And the Court has recognized that in determining that the exclusionary rule wouldn't apply to parole revocation proceedings.
But second, in Edmonds, the Court indicated that the fact that a general law enforcement search, as a secondary matter, furthers special needs... in that case highway safety... does not bring the search scheme within the special needs exception because a secondary, incidental furtherance of a special need doesn't change the fundamental character at the programmatic level of the search.
That's why police searches that are conducted pursuant to this condition are so problematic because, of course, as a secondary matter, they ensure compliance with probation conditions, but the primary objective of a police search, as... as it was the objective this search in this case, is to investigate crime.
And under the Fourth Amendment, we've already decided as a society that the hurdles of requiring a warrant and requiring probable cause are acceptable costs to impose on the police when they're engaged in general law enforcement.
That's why this condition is unconstitutional.
The Government's consent argument that we started with doesn't save it for the reasons that I suggested earlier.
Unidentified Justice: You said something in your brief about the unconstitutional conditions doctrine rarely applies in Fourth Amendment cases.
Now, you did say that, didn't you?
Mr. Fox: That's my understanding, yes, Your Honor.
Unidentified Justice: And why do you think that's so?
Mr. Fox: I think the special needs balancing is the unconstitutional doctrines... unconstitutional conditions doctrine in the Fourth Amendment situation.
It's... it's virtually an identical balancing, and I think this Court, in assessing Fourth Amendment issues, again and again has returned to the special needs balancing, which is particular to the privacy interests and the State needs that the Court faces when resolving a Fourth Amendment case.
So, when you look at unconstitutional conditions, I think it's achieving the same end by requiring a central nexus and then, most importantly, looking at proportionality.
I think that's what... I'm sorry, Your Honor.
Unidentified Justice: Thank you, Ms. Fox.
Mr. Stewart, you have 2 minutes remaining.
REBUTTAL ARGUMENT OF MALCOM L. STEWART ON BEHALF OF THE PETITIONER
Mr. Stewart: The State of California has represented in its amicus brief that the State has a little over 67,000 police officers and a little over 7,000 probation officers within the State.
And in light of that fact, California has, by conditioning probation on consent to search by any probation officer or law enforcement officer... the State has, in effect, attempted to enlist its police officers in the administration of the probation program.
The core message that this... excuse me... that this consent term sends to police officers within the State is, if you suspect that a known probationer is in violation of the most fundamental term of his release... namely, he's committing future crimes... you may conduct a search that is designed to confirm or dispel that suspicion--
Unidentified Justice: Or even you don't suspect.
Mr. Stewart: --Or... or even you don't suspect.
Unidentified Justice: But, I mean, that... that's the problem.
Mr. Stewart: --I think it's probably more likely that a probation officer would conduct a truly suspicionless search, a search with no individualized suspicion whatever, than that a police officer would do so.
A probation officer might decide to conduct spot checks of his charges even if there were no reason to believe that a particular individual was violating the law.
A police officer would be less likely to regard that as an effective use of his resources and... and the department's resources.
But... but the point here is that when a State police officer conducts a search intended to confirm or dispel the suspicion that a probationer is engaged in new criminal activity, he is contributing directly and precisely to the realization of a core probation purpose.
I have nothing further.
Chief Justice Rehnquist: Thank you, Mr. Stewart.
The case is submitted.
Argument of Chief Justice Rehnquist
Mr. Rehnquist: I have the opinion of the Court to announce in No. 00-1260, United States against Knights.
A California Court sentenced respondent Mark James Knights to summary probation for a drug offense.
The probation order included the following condition that Knights would submit its person, property, place of residence, vehicle, personal effects, to search at anytime with or without a search warrant, warrant of arrest or reasonable cause by any probation officer or law enforcement officer.
Knights signed the probation officer which stated that he received a copy, understood it, and agreed to abide by it.
Just a few days after, he was placed on probation, a PG&E power transformer in California was set on fire causing an estimated million and half dollars in damage.
He and his friends, a man named Steven Simon have long been suspects in numerous acts of vandalism committed against PG&E property.
Several more events occurring after the arson increased the suspicion.
Finally, Detective Hancock decided to search Knights' apartment.
He was aware of Knights’ probation condition so he did not think a warrant was necessary.
The search has revealed a detonation card, ammunition, liquid chemicals, instruction manuals on chemistry and electrical circuitry, bold cutters, telephone pole-climbing spurs, drug paraphernalia and a brass padlocks stamped PG&E.
He was arrested and the Federal Grand Jury indicted him for conspiracy to commit arson, possession of unregistered destructive device and being a felon in possession of ammunition.
He moved to suppress the evidence obtained during the search of his apartment.
The District Court held that Detective Hancock had reasonable suspicion to believe that Knights was involved in the arson but it granted the motion to suppress because of some cases from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that siad a stop like this have to be in probationary rather than investigatory in order to be done without a warrant and without probable cause.
The Court of Appeals affirms, and in an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we reversed.
The lower courts agreed that reasonable suspicion under our cases existed for this search.
That is a degree of suspicion less than probable cause but for what we call a Terry Stop, but the court of Appeals thought that since it was for law enforcement purposes not rehabilitation purposes, it was invalid under the Fourth Amendment, but while one of the interests of the government in granting probation is to rehabilitate the probationer.
Another equally important interest is to protect the community from criminal enterprise.
We have observed and statistics support the observation that probationers are more likely to engage in criminal conduct and ordinary citizens.
This interest of the government together with Knights decreased expectation of privacy by reason of his probation condition justified the search here.
The decision is unanimous.
Justice Souter has filed a concurring opinion.