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Criminal Procedure - Outline Part 16

By Collin B. Hardee

Download the PDF version of this outline

<< Part 15 | Part 17 >>

Reasonableness in a “Special Needs” (And Non-Criminal) Context, i.e., Special Needs Searches

Searches and seizures conducted by police in furtherance of their criminal law enforcement responsibilities VS. searches and seizures conducted by police, and by other public officials, in furtherance of “community caretaking functions,” i.e., non-law enforcement purposes

  • Automobile Inventories – when an automobile must be towed as a result of illegal parking, the police may routinely inspect the contents of the car, not as part of a criminal investigation, but simply to make sure that belongings are properly inventoried for safekeeping purposes
  • South Dakota v. Opperman (1976) → “Special Inventory Exception to the Warrant Requirement” – since automobile inventories are not criminal investigations, the Warrant Clause including the probable clause requirement do NOT apply. The Reasonableness Clause, alone, must be considered, and the police may inventory automobiles under specified circumstances in the absence of probable cause or even reasonable suspicion

“Special Needs Exception to the Warrant Requirement” → a search or seizure comes within the “special needs” category when a perceived need, beyond the normal need for criminal law enforcement, makes the warrant and/or probable cause requirements of the 4th Amendment impracticable or irrelevant

  • In such circumstances, the Court evaluates the governmental activity by applying the reasonableness balancing standard
Administrative Searches
  • Camara (v. Municipal Court (1967)) & See (v. City of Seattle (1967)) → except in the event of emergency or consent, residences and commercial buildings may not be entered to inspect for administrative code violations without an administrative search warrant.
    • The “probable cause” for these administrative warrants can be supplied by showing of non-arbitrary justification to inspect the particular premises, e.g., that all the buildings in the area are due to be inspected
  • New York v. Burger (1987) → Court approved WARRANTLESS administrative searches of “closely governmentally regulated industries even in the absence of emergency or consent
    • Owner and operators of commercial premises are in a “closely regulated” industry and therefore has a reduced expectation of privacy; ergo, the warrant and probable-cause requirements have lessened application in this context
    • As in other situations of “special need,” where the privacy interests of the owner are weakened and the government interests in regulating particular businesses are concomitantly heightened, a warrantless inspect of commercial premises may well be reasonable within the meaning of the 4th Amendment
    • Despite the fact that the searches were conducted by police officers, and that the officers, serving as agents of an administrative agency, could have cited Burger for violation of administrative regulations, without ever conducted the search that turned up criminal wrongdoing
    • Court did not focus on the motives of the officers in the case – all that mattered was that the administrative regulations had a non-penal purpose
Birth of the “Special Needs” Doctrine – School Searches
  • New Jersey v. T.L.O. (1985) → Neither the warrant requirement nor probable cause applies to searches by public school officials
    • Warrant Requirement – it is “unsuited to the school environment,” because it would “unduly interfere with the maintenance of the swift and informal disciplinary proceedings needed in the schools.”
    • Probable Cause Requirement – “Where a careful balancing of governmental and public interests suggests that the public interest is best served by a 4th Amendment standard of reasonableness that stops short of probable cause, we have not hesitated to adopt such a standard,” i.e., public school teachers and administrators may search students without a warrant if two (2) conditions are met:
      1. There are reasonable grounds – not necessarily “probable cause” in criminal context – “for suspecting that the search will turn up evidence that the student has violated or is violating either the law or the rules of the school”; and
      2. once initiated, the search is “not excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the student and the nature of the infraction.”
  • A “Special Needs” School Search That Went Too Far
    • Safford Unified School District #1 v. Redding (2009)
      • Issue: “Whether a 13-year-old student’s 4th Amendment right was violated when she was subjected to a search of her bra and underpants by school officials acting on reasonable suspicion that she had brought forbidden prescription and over-the-counter drugs to school.”
      • Rule: the concern to limit a school search to reasonable scope requires the support of reasonable suspicion of danger or of resort to underwear for hiding evidence of wrongdoing before a search can reasonably make the quantum leap from outer clothes and backpacks to exposure of intimate parts
      • Reasoning: the content of the suspicion failed to match the degree of intrusion. . . What was missing from the suspected facts (pills were prescription-strength ibuprofen) that pointed to the student was any indication of danger to students from the power of the drugs or their quantity, and any reason specific to this student to suppose she was carrying pills in her underwear.
Airport Searches
  • US v. Aukai (9th Cir. 2007) → (defendant didn’t bring identification to airport so had to go through screening process which resulted in discovery of drug paraphernalia after defendant wanted to leave the airport) – search was constitutional and characterized as a valid “administrative search,” therefore not dependent upon defendant’s consent
    • Court invoked “special needs” doctrine, ruling that “the scope of such searches is not limitless. A particular airport security search is constitutionally reasonable provided that it:
      1. ‘is no more extensive than necessary, in the light of current technology, to detect the presence of weapons or explosives and
      2. it is confined in good faith to that purpose.”
Border Searches
  • US v. Ramsey (1977) → at the border and its functional equivalent (e.g., at an airport where an international flight arrives), a person may be stopped and her belongings searched without a warrant and in the absence of individualized suspicion of wrongdoing, “pursuant to the longstanding right of the sovereign to protect itself” from entry of persons and things dangerous to the nation
  • US v. Flores-Montano (2004) → a suspicion-less international border search is constitutionally reasonable even when border agents, without reasonable suspicion, seize a person’s car at the international border, remove the gas tank, and search it
  • Seizures Conducted by “Roving Border Patrol” (where agents stop a car without notice on a little-traveled road)
    • US v. Brignoni-Ponce (1975) → the roving border patrol agents need reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to detain the car occupants briefly
  • Seizures Occurring at a Fixed Interior Checkpoint (a permanent stop along a well-traveled highway)
    • US v. Martinez-Fuerte (1976) → vehicle occupants may be stopped for questioning at fixed interior checkpoints without individualized suspicion of wrongdoing
Sobriety Checkpoints on Highways
  • Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz (1990) → Although highway police may not randomly stop cars in order to check for traffic violations, the police may set up a fixed checkpoint on the highway so as to test for drunkenness; even though a stop at such a “sobriety checkpoint” is a “seizure,” such stops may be made of all drivers even though the police have no particularized suspicion about any one driver
    • Balancing Test: The SC weighed three (3) factors to determine whether the checkpoint is constitutional:
      1. State’s interest in preventing accidents caused by drunk drivers;
      2. the effectiveness of sobriety checkpoints in achieving that state interest; and
      3. the level of intrusion on an individual’s privacy caused by the checkpoints
    • No Discretion – Sitz apparently applies only where the police stop ALL cars passing the checkpoint; if the police stop less than all, presumably they must have some particularized suspicion before they may stop a specific person
  • Random Stops under Delaware v. Prouse Random stops without individualized suspicion – even if made just for the purpose of verifying driver’s license and related information – are NOT PERMISSIBLE, because they give too much discretion to the officer

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