Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

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This compendium includes significant criminal cases by the U.S. Supreme Court & N.C. appellate courts, Nov. 2008 – Present. Selected 4th Circuit cases also are included.

Jessica Smith prepared case summaries Nov. 2008-June 4, 2019; later summaries are prepared by other School staff.

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E.g., 09/22/2021
E.g., 09/22/2021

The defendant was on probation for a conviction of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and he was classified by his probation officer as “extreme high risk” for supervision purposes. Officers from several law enforcement agencies, working in conjunction with probation officers, conducted warrantless searches of the residences of high risk probationers in the county, including the defendant. Officers found drugs and paraphernalia during the search of defendant’s residence, and he was charged with several drug-related felonies. The defendant moved to suppress the evidence from the warrantless search, arguing that it was illegal because it was not “directly related” to his probation supervision, as required by G.S. 15A-1343(b)(13). The appellate court disagreed and affirmed the denial of the defendant’s suppression motion. The facts of this case were distinguishable from State v. Powell, __ N.C. App. __, 800 S.E.2d 745 (2017). In Powell, a U.S. Marshals task force conducted warrantless searches of random probationer’s homes as part of an ongoing operation for its own purposes and did not even notify the probation office. The Powell court held that those warrantless searches were not “directly related” to probation supervision. By contrast, the defendant in this case was selected for the enforcement action by his probation officer based on “his risk assessment, suspected gang affiliation, and positive drug screen,” and the “purpose of the search was to give the added scrutiny and closer supervision required of ‘high risk’ probationers such as the Defendant.” The search was therefore directly related to his supervision.

Because the State failed to meet its burden of demonstrating that a warrantless search was authorized by G.S. 15A-1343(b)(13), the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress. The defendant was subjected to the regular condition of probation under G.S. 15A-1343(b)(13). This provision requires that the probationer “Submit at reasonable times to warrantless searches by a probation officer of the probationer's person and of the probationer's vehicle and premises while the probationer is present, for purposes directly related to the probation supervision . . . .” Here, the search of the defendant’s home occurred as part of an ongoing operation of a US Marshal’s Service task force. The court noted that while prior case law makes clear that the presence or 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 the statute. The State failed to meet its burden here. To conclude otherwise would require the court to read the phrase “for purposes directly related to the probation supervision” out of the statute. The court emphasized however that its opinion should not be read as diminishing the authority of probation officers to conduct warrantless searches of probationers’ homes or to utilize the assistance of law enforcement officers in conducting such searches. Rather, it held that on the specific facts of this case the State failed to meet its burden of demonstrating that the search was authorized under the statute.

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