Friday, March 23, 2007

Parolee's 4th Amendment Rights As Overnight Guest In Another's Home Are Limited to Those He Could Assert In His Own Home

United States v. Taylor, No. 06-60136 (5th Cir. Mar. 15, 2007) (Reavley, Jolly, Benavides)

Taylor was released from prison in Mississippi on Earned Release Supervision (evidently a form of parole). At some point while Taylor was still on ERS, his supervision officer informed the Mississippi Department of Correction "that a complaint had been made against Taylor for malicious mischief, that Taylor was reported to have a handgun [recently purchased by his girlfriend], and that Taylor had failed to report to the county field office as directed." Various LEO's, armed with a misdemeanor arrest warrant for the malicious mischief charge, went looking for Taylor at a woman's apartment. After receiving no response to their knocking, the officers burst into the apartment and found Taylor hiding in a bedroom. They also searched for and found the pistol that they thought Taylor had.

Taylor was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. He moved to suppress the gun, arguing that 1) he was an overnight guest in the apartment when the police came looking for him, and so had a privacy interest in the apartment sufficient to protect him from unreasonable searches and seizures under Minnesota v. Olson, 2) the misdemeanor arrest warrant could not support a search of the apartment, and 3) the search for the gun, which was found in a bureau in another bedroom, was not a valid search incident to arrest.

The court of appeals affirmed the district court's denial of the motion, in a two-part holding. First, the court held that "under Olson, [Taylor's] Fourth Amendment rights as a guest are limited to those that he could assert with respect to his own residence." Slip op. at 5. Second, the court held that Taylor's privacy interest in his own home fell under the standard of United States v. Knights, which permitted a warrantless search of a probationer's home based on reasonable suspicion.
The question therefore, is whether there was a sufficiently high probability that criminal conduct was occurring. In this case, unlike in Knights, the police had a misdemeanor arrest warrant at the time they entered the house. They also had evidence suggesting that Taylor was in possession of a firearm and that he was in violation of the conditions of his parole. This evidence is sufficient to support a determination that the police had reasonable suspicion that Taylor may have been engaged in criminal conduct.

Slip op. at 7. The search of Taylor's girlfriend's apartment, in which he had no greater privacy interest than in his own home, therefore did not violate his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

There are a couple of issues the court didn't address. First, the court opined that the Supreme Court's recent decision in Samson v. California may have eliminated Knight's reasonable suspicion requirement as to parolees, allowing suspicionless searches of parolee's residences. But the court declined to consider this distinction between parolees and probationers because the officers had a reasonable suspicion here. Second, the court declined to decide whether the search violated the Fourth Amendment rights of Taylor's girlfriend, because "Taylor cannot . . . reasonably assert that his Fourth Amendment rights have been violated by this intrusion." Slip op. at 7. Nevertheless, the case does have troubling implications for the Fourth Amendment rights of those who share a home with a probationer or parolee.



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