[ Rehnquist ]
[ Souter ]
The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.
See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U.S. 321, 337.
UNITED STATES v. KNIGHTS
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT
A California courts order sentencing respondent Knights to probation for a drug offense included the condition that Knights submit to search at anytime, with or without a search or arrest warrant or reasonable cause, by any probation or law enforcement officer. Subsequently, a sheriffs detective, with reasonable suspicion, searched Knightss apartment. Based in part on items recovered, 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 Knightss 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 Ninth Circuit affirmed.
Held: The warrantless search of Knights, supported by reasonable suspicion and authorized by a probation condition, satisfied the Fourth Amendment. As nothing in Knightss probation condition limits searches to those with a probationary purpose, the question here is whether the Fourth Amendment imposes such a limitation. Knights argues that a warrantless search of a probationer satisfies the Fourth Amendment only if it is just like the search at issue in Griffin v. Wisconsin, 483 U.S. 868, i.e., a special needs search conducted by a probation officer monitoring whether the probationer is complying with probation restrictions. This dubious logicthat an opinion upholding the constitutionality of a particular search implicitly holds unconstitutional any search that is not like itruns contrary to Griffins express statement that its special needs holding made it unnecessary to consider whether warrantless searches of probationers were otherwise reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Id., at 878, 880. And this Court need not decide whether Knightss acceptance of the search condition constituted consent to a complete waiver of his Fourth Amendment rights in the sense of Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, because the search here was reasonable under the Courts general Fourth Amendment totality of the circumstances approach, Ohio v. Robinette, 519 U.S. 33, 39, with the search condition being a salient circumstance. The Fourth Amendments touchstone is reasonableness, and a searchs reasonableness is determined by assessing, on the one hand, the degree to which it intrudes upon an individuals privacy and, on the other, the degree to which it is needed to promote legitimate governmental interests. Wyoming v. Houghton, 526 U.S. 295, 300. Knightss status as a probationer subject to a search condition informs both sides of that balance. The sentencing judge reasonably concluded that the search condition would further the two primary goals of probationrehabilitation and protecting society from future criminal violations. Knights was unambiguously informed of the search condition. Thus, Knightss reasonable expectation of privacy was significantly diminished. In assessing the governmental interest, it must be remembered that the very assumption of probation is that the probationer is more likely than others to violate the law. Griffin, supra, at 880. The States interest in apprehending criminal law violators, thereby protecting potential victims, may justifiably focus on probationers in a way that it does not on the ordinary citizen. On balance, no more than reasonable suspicion was required to search this probationers house. The degree of individualized suspicion required is a determination that a sufficiently high probability of criminal conduct makes the intrusion on the individuals privacy interest reasonable. Although the Fourth Amendment ordinarily requires probable cause, a lesser degree satisfies the Constitution when the balance of governmental and private interests makes such a standard reasonable. See, e.g., Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1. The same circumstances that lead to the conclusion that reasonable suspicion is constitutionally sufficient also render a warrant requirement unnecessary. See Illinois v. McArthur, 531 U.S. 326, 330. Because the Courts holding rests on ordinary Fourth Amendment analysis that considers all the circumstances of a search, there is no basis for examining official purpose. Pp. 49.
219 F.3d 1138, reversed and remanded.
Rehnquist, C. J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. Souter, J., filed a concurring opinion.