Monday, July 19th, 2021

Second Circuit reverses a suppression order, applying “special needs doctrine” to uphold a parole officer’s search of parolee’s house without reasonable suspicion.

In United States v. Braggs, No. 20-892 (2d Cir. July 13, 2021), the Second Circuit reversed the suppression of guns and drugs found in a search of defendant’s house by his New York state parole officer. The search was based on an anonymous tip that “Mr. Braggs may have guns in his house.” The District Court for the Western District of New York suppressed the evidence, as well inculpatory statements made during subsequent police questioning at his house, on the ground that the search was not based on reasonable suspicion. The district court relied on the State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision directive requiring essentially a reasonable suspicion standard for such a search, and Samson v. California, 547 U.S. 843 (2006), which tied the parameters of a search of a state parolee to the consent required of as a condition of parole.

The Second Circuit ruled that state law could not determine the admissibility of evidence in a federal proceeding and therefore the New York state directive conditioning parole searches on reasonable suspicion was not applicable. It further held that Samson –which did consider the expansive consent to search required of parolees by the state of California – was not applicable because Samson addressed a search by police, not a parole officer. A parole officer’s search, the Court ruled, is governed by the “special needs doctrine” of Griffin v. Wisconsin, 483 U.S. 868, 873(1987). The Court of Appeals  held that this doctrine permits a parole officer to search a parolee “so long as it is reasonably related to the parole officers duties,” quoting a footnote United States v. Grimes, 225 F.3d 254, 259 n.4 (2d Cir. 2000). The Court held the search of Braggs’ house was reasonably related to the officers’ duties and therefore was consitutionally permissible, even based only on an anonymous tip.

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