219 F.3d 1138 (9th Cir. 2000), 99-10538, United States v. Knights

Docket Nº:99-10538
Citation:219 F.3d 1138
Party Name:UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. MARK JAMES KNIGHTS; STEVEN SIMONEAU, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:August 03, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

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219 F.3d 1138 (9th Cir. 2000)

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellant,



No. 99-10538

Office of the Circuit Executive

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

August 3, 2000

Argued and Submitted July 11, 2000--San Francisco, California

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Martha Boersch, Assistant United States Attorney, San Francisco, California, for the plaintiff-appellant.

Hilary A. Fox, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Oakland, California, for the defendant-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, Martin J. Jenkins, District Judge, Presiding; D.C. No. CR-99-00108-MJJ

Before: William C. Canby, Jr., Stephen Reinhardt, and Ferdinand F. Fernandez, Circuit Judges.

FERNANDEZ, Circuit Judge:

The United States appeals from an order which suppressed evidence seized from the home of Mark James Knights in a warrantless search conducted by members of the Sheriff's Department of Napa County, California. It claims that the evidence was properly seized during a probation search. The district court disagreed; so do we. We affirm.

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From 1996 on, Pacific Gas and Electric Company's facilities in Napa County had been subjected to vandalism over 30 times. Those incidents included short circuits caused by throwing chains onto transformers, damaging of gas power switches, and damaging of power pole guy wires. Suspicion had focused on Knights, and on his friend, Steven Simoneau. Many things contributed to that. In the first place, those vandalisms started after Knights' electrical services had been discontinued in March of 1996 because he not only did not pay his bill, but also had found a way to steal services by bypassing PG&E's meter. Detective Todd Hancock of the Sheriff's Department also thought it noteworthy that incidents of vandalism of PG&E property seemed to coincide with Knights' court appearance dates regarding the theft of PG&E services.

More than that, on May 24, 1998, Knights and Simoneau were stopped by a sheriff's deputy near a PG&E gas line. They could not explain their presence in the area to the deputy, who observed that Simoneau's pick-up truck contained pipes, pieces of chain, tools, and gasoline. The deputy asked to search the vehicle, but was refused permission. A few days later, a pipe bomb was detonated against the exterior of a building where a burglary had taken place. That building was not far from Knights' residence.

For our purposes, the final incident occurred on the morning of June 1, 1998. Some miscreant, or miscreants, had managed to knock out telephone service to the Napa County Airport by breaking into a Pacific Bell telecommunications vault and setting fire to it. Brass padlocks which secured the vault and an adjacent PG&E power transformer had been removed, and a gasoline accelerant had been used to ignite the fire. Within a short time after that incident occurred, a sheriff's deputy drove by Knights' residence and observed Simoneau's truck parked in front. The deputy got out of his patrol car and felt the hood of Simoneau's truck. It was still warm at the time, which suggested that Knights and Simoneau might have been involved in the vandalism. The investigation focused even more purposefully upon them as a result.

Thus, on June 3, 1998, Hancock set up surveillance of Knights' apartment. At approximately 1:45 a.m., Knights and Simoneau arrived at the apartment in Simoneau's pick-up truck. The two proceeded to enter the apartment where they remained with the lights on until about 3:10 a.m. At that point, Simoneau emerged from the apartment carrying three cylindrical items cradled in his arms. On the basis of his training, Hancock believed those to be pipe bombs. Simoneau walked to the truck, placed an object shaped like a jar in the back of it, and then walked across the street to the bank of the Napa River, where he disappeared from view. Hancock then heard three splashes as Simoneau, seemingly, deposited those objects in the river. Simoneau returned to the truck without the cylinders, picked up a glass jar from the truck bed and wiped it with a cloth. He then climbed into that truck and departed.

Hancock trailed Simoneau until he stopped in a driveway. When Hancock entered the driveway Simoneau was not around, but Hancock discovered a number of suspicious objects in and about the truck. In the bed of the truck were a Molotov cocktail and explosive materials. Also, a gasoline can and two brass padlocks, which seemed to fit the description given by PG&E investigators of the locks removed from the Pacific Bell and PG&E transformer vault two days earlier, were observed. The truck was seized, impounded, and later searched pursuant to a warrant.

With all of that information in hand, Hancock decided that he would conduct a warrantless "probation" search of Knights' home. As Hancock saw it, he did not need to obtain a warrant because at an earlier time Knights had been placed on summary probation after he was convicted of a state

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misdemeanor drug offense. A person on summary probation in California is not under the direct supervision of a probation officer1. However, in this case, a term of that probation required Knights to "[s]ubmit his . . . person, property, place of residence, vehicle, personal effects, to search at anytime, with or without a search warrant, warrant of arrest or reasonable cause by any probation officer or law...

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