Property Searches on Probation: Do Officers Need a Warrant?

Posted on by New Mexico Criminal Law Offices

search warrantAs a citizen of the United States, the Fourth Amendment says that you are protected from unlawful searches and seizures of your property. Therefore, law enforcement cannot enter your home, search, or take personal property without a court order. Even then, the officers must have probable cause.

While this is a constitutional right, you must remember that while on probation or parole, your constitutional rights do not always apply. In fact, as a condition of your probation or parole, the judge is likely to require that you agree to all warrantless searches conducted by law enforcement. Therefore, you must agree to forfeit your Fourth Amendment rights if you want to get out of jail on probation or parole.

Is It Legal to Search a Probationer’s Property Without a Warrant?

Probation is considered far more preferable to most offenders than the alternative – which would be jail or imprisonment. However, you would be wise to keep this in mind.  While you may be out of jail on probation, your rights are still limited. They are not as limited as if you were in jail, but they are limited.

Therefore, you have reduced expectations of privacy, and you do not have the same Fourth Amendment rights as you would if you were not on probation. The purpose of a judge revoking your Fourth Amendment rights is to protect the public, rehabilitate you, and ensure you remain compliant.

And if you were to violate the terms of your probation, probation would be revoked and you would be returned to jail to serve the rest of your sentence – sometimes with added penalties.

Officers Do Not Have Endless Powers

Even though your Fourth Amendment rights may be temporarily suspended while on probation, realize that officers cannot barge in and search whenever they wish. The judge determines the type of search conditions of your probation. It may be limited, or it may be a wide net.  So if the judge says that you must agree to searches at any time for any reason…or no reason at all…then you will be unable to stop such a search.

However, if this is not stated, you may retain some rights. Your probation officer, or police may need reasonable suspicion, and often it is your probation officer that holds the power to conduct the search over regular law enforcement.

Typically, probation searches include:

  • Contraband Checks – This means that your probation officer or law enforcement can periodically search for signs of contraband. They must have reasonable suspicion that you are in possession of weapons, drugs, or both to conduct the search. They cannot seek evidence of other crimes.
  • Anytime, Any Place Checks – This is by far the harshest probation condition, because it allows law enforcement and probation officers to check your property anytime, and the officer does not need reasonable suspicion to do so. Rarely is this type of probation condition issued; unless you are on probation for a serious crime.
  • Reasonable Suspicion – If law enforcement has reasonable suspicion that you are guilty of another crime or you have violated your probation terms, they can search and seize property. Reasonable suspicion is a tricky subject, and law enforcement often claims reasonable suspicion when they have none. Just about anything qualifies for this “reasonableness” element, including a tips from informants, staying at a residence not approved by your parole officer, carrying too much cash, or even smelling like drugs or alcohol.

Protect Your Rights – Speak with a Defense Attorney

You might be on probation, and you may have committed a crime, but that does not mean law enforcement may abuse you and stomp on your rights. If you feel you are being abused by law enforcement, or you have been arrested for a crime and want to avoid the harsh realities of parole, speak with a defense attorney.

A defense attorney from New Mexico Criminal Law Offices is there to protect your rights and help you avoid the penalties of the criminal justice system.

Speak with our attorneys today during a free consultation by calling us at 505-375-4763 or request more information online.