On March 25, 2015, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decided the United States v. White [i], in which they decided the issue of whether a warrantless, non-consensual search of a parolee on a condition of parole is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The relevant facts of White, taken directly from the case, are as follows:
The Illinois Department of Corrections issued a warrant on March 29, 2011 to arrest White for violating his parole. The warrant was based on two discoveries. First, one of two victims from a shooting a week earlier had identified White as the shooter. Second, earlier that month a parole officer had found in White’s bedroom the packaging for a Glock .40 caliber magazine. Two days after the warrant was issued, the police received a tip that White was driving a green sport utility vehicle.
That tip led the officers to the home of White’s cousin, Tawana Williams. They knew she drove such a car. Williams told the police that she and White had been together earlier that day and that White had placed his gym bag in her car. The police searched White’s bag and found a .40 caliber Glock handgun loaded with 10 rounds of ammunition. White was later arrested and charged with possessing a firearm and ammunition as a felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). [ii]
White filed a motion to suppress the weapons found during the search of his bag which was in Tawana’s car. The trial court denied the motion, and White was convicted at trial by a jury. He then appealed the denial of his motion to suppress.
The issue on appeal was whether the officers violated White’s Fourth Amendment rights when they searched his bag which he left in Tawana Williams’ car. While the court of appeals noted that the reasonableness of a search under the Fourth Amendment is determined under United States Supreme Court and Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals precedent, there is a state law question because the reasonableness is determined, in large part, by the extent that the state law on parole conditions diminishes White’s legitimate expectation of privacy. As such, the court examined Illinois case law regarding probation and parole searches.
The lead Illinois case on point, and controlling in White’s case, is the People v. Absher [iii]. The Seventh Circuit stated:
After Absher, an Illinois probationer’s agreement to consent to suspicionless searches is best understood has having the effect of waiving his Fourth Amendment rights. See id. at 668. [iv]
The court then noted that while Absher refers to probationers, it is still instructive to White’s case (as a parolee).
Further, to determine if the search was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, the court also looked to Samson v. California [v], the United States Supreme Court case regarding searches of parolees. Regarding Samson, the Seventh Circuit stated:
To determine the reasonableness of a search under the Fourth Amendment, we look at the totality of the circumstances, balancing the degree to which the search intrudes on individual liberty and the degree to which it promotes legitimate governmental interests. Wyoming v. Houghton, 526 U.S. 295, 300 (1999); Narducci v. Moore, 572 F.3d 313, 319 (7th Cir. 2009). Balancing those interests, the Supreme Court in Samson upheld a warrantless and suspicionless search of a parolee. There, the Court analyzed a parole condition substantively identical to the condition requiring White to “consent to a search of your person, property, or residence under your control.” Compare 730 ILCS 5/3-3-7(10) and People v. Wilson, 885 N.E.2d 1033, 1041-42 (Ill. 2008), with Samson, 547 U.S. at 846.
Without deciding whether that consent led to “a complete waiver” of Fourth Amendment rights, see Samson, 547 U.S. at 852 n.3, the Court nonetheless held that, in balancing the relevant interests, the search was reasonable. It observed first that the government has an “overwhelming interest” in supervising parolees because they are more likely to commit crimes and must be reintegrated into the community. Id. at 853. Given that interest, the Court concluded that a “condition of release can so diminish or eliminate a released prisoner’s reasonable expectation of privacy that a suspicionless search by a law enforcement officer would not offend the Fourth Amendment.” Id. at 847. Thus, under Samson, even if White did not actually consent to the bag’s search, his significantly diminished expectation of privacy balanced against the government’s substantial law-enforcement interest renders the search reasonable and therefore lawful. [vi] [emphasis added]
Therefore, the court affirmed the denial of the motion to suppress, as White’s other arguments moot due this holding.
Note: Court holdings can vary significantly between jurisdictions. As such, it is advisable to seek the advice of a local prosecutor or legal adviser regarding questions on specific cases. This article is not intended to constitute legal advice on a specific case.
[i] No. 13-2943 (7th Cir. Decided March 25, 2015)
[ii] Id. at 2
[iii] 950 N.E.2d 659 (Ill. 2011)
[iv] White at 8
[v] 547 U.S. 112 (2011)
[vi] White at 8-9