483 U.S. 868 (1987), 86-5324, Griffin v. Wisconsin

Docket Nº:No. 86-5324
Citation:483 U.S. 868, 107 S.Ct. 3164, 97 L.Ed.2d 709, 55 U.S.L.W. 5156
Party Name:Griffin v. Wisconsin
Case Date:June 26, 1987
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 868

483 U.S. 868 (1987)

107 S.Ct. 3164, 97 L.Ed.2d 709, 55 U.S.L.W. 5156

Griffin

v.

Wisconsin

No. 86-5324

United States Supreme Court

June 26, 1987

Argued April 20, 1987

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF WISCONSIN

Syllabus

Wisconsin law places probationers in the legal custody of the State Department of Health and Social Services and renders them "subject to . . . conditions set by the . . . rules and regulations established by the department." One such regulation permits any probation officer to search a probationer's home without a warrant as long as his supervisor approves and as long as there are "reasonable grounds" to believe the presence of contraband. In determining whether "reasonable grounds" exist, an officer must consider a variety of factors, including information provided by an informant, the reliability and specificity of that information, the informant's reliability, the officer's experience with the probationer, and the need to verify compliance with the rules of probation and with the law. Another regulation forbids a probationer to possess a firearm without a probation officer's advance approval. Upon information received from a police detective that there were or might be guns in petitioner probationer's apartment, probation officers searched the apartment and found a handgun. Petitioner was tried and convicted of the felony of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, the state trial court having denied his motion to suppress the evidence seized during the search after concluding that no warrant was necessary and that the search was reasonable. The State Court of Appeals and the State Supreme Court affirmed.

Held:

[107 S.Ct. 3166] 1. The warrantless search of petitioner's residence was "reasonable" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment because it was conducted pursuant to a regulation that is itself a reasonable response to the "special needs" of a probation system. Pp. 872-880.

(a) Supervision of probationers is a "special need" of the State that may justify departures from the usual warrant and probable cause requirements. Supervision is necessary to ensure that probation restrictions are in fact observed, that the probation serves as a genuine rehabilitation period, and that the community is not harmed by the probationer's being at large. Pp. 873-875.

(b) The search regulation is valid because the "special needs" of Wisconsin's probation system make the warrant requirement impracticable and justify replacement of the probable cause standard with the regulation's "reasonable grounds" standard. It is reasonable to dispense with the warrant requirement here, since such a requirement

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would interfere to an appreciable degree with the probation system by setting up a magistrate, rather than the probation officer, as the determiner of how closely the probationer must be supervised, by making it more difficult for probation officials to respond quickly to evidence of misconduct, and by reducing the deterrent effect that the possibility of expeditious searches would otherwise create. Moreover, unlike the police officer who conducts the ordinary search, the probation officer is required to have the probationer's welfare particularly in mind. A probable cause requirement would unduly disrupt the probation system by reducing the deterrent effect of the supervisory arrangement and by lessening the range of information the probation officer could consider in deciding whether to search. The probation agency must be able to act based upon a lesser degree of certainty in order to intervene before the probationer damages himself or society, and must be able to proceed on the basis of its entire experience with the probationer and to assess probabilities in the light of its knowledge of his life, character, and circumstances. Thus, it is reasonable to permit information provided by a police officer, whether or not on the basis of firsthand knowledge, to support a probationary search. All that is required is that the information provided indicates, as it did here, the likelihood of facts justifying the search. Pp. 875-880.

2. The conclusion that the regulation in question was constitutional makes it unnecessary to consider whether any search of a probationer's home is lawful when there are "reasonable grounds" to believe contraband is present. P. 880.

131 Wis.2d 41, 388 N.W.2d 535, affirmed.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, POWELL, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, in Parts I-B and I-C of which BRENNAN, J., joined, and in Part I-C of which STEVENS, J., joined, post p. 881. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post p. 890.

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SCALIA, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner Joseph Griffin, who was on probation, had his home searched by probation officers acting without a warrant. The officers found a gun that later served as the basis of Griffin's conviction of a state law weapons offense. We granted certiorari, 479 U.S. 1005 (1986), to consider whether this search violated the Fourth Amendment.

I

On September 4, 1980, Griffin, who had previously been convicted of a felony, was convicted in Wisconsin state court of resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, and obstructing an officer. He was placed on probation.

Wisconsin law puts probationers in the legal custody of the State Department of Health and Social Services and renders them "subject . . . to . . . conditions set by the court and rules and regulations established by the department." Wis.Stat. § 973.10(1) (1985-1986). One of the Department's regulations permits any probation officer to search a probationer's

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home without a warrant as long as his supervisor approves and as long as there are "reasonable grounds" to believe the presence of contraband -- including any item that the probationer cannot possess under the probation conditions. Wis.Admin.Code HSS §§ 328.21(4), 328.16(1) (1981).1 The rule provides that an officer should consider a variety of factors in determining whether "reasonable grounds" exist, among which are information provided by an informant, the reliability and specificity of that information, the reliability of the informant (including whether the informant has any incentive to supply inaccurate information), the officer's own experience with the probationer, and the "need to verify compliance with rules of supervision and state and federal law." HSS § 328.21(7). Another regulation makes it a violation of the terms of probation to refuse to consent to a home search. HSS § 328.04(3)(k). And still another forbids a probationer to possess a firearm without advance approval from a probation officer. HSS § 328.04(3)(j).

On April 5, 1983, while Griffin was still on probation, Michael Lew, the supervisor of Griffin's probation officer, received information from a detective on the Beloit Police Department that there were or might be guns in Griffin's apartment. Unable to secure the assistance of Griffin's own probation officer, Lew, accompanied by another probation officer and three plainclothes policemen, went to the apartment. When Griffin answered the door, Lew told him who they were and informed him that they were going to search his home. During the subsequent search -- carried out entirely by the probation officers under the authority of Wisconsin's probation regulation -- they found a handgun.

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Griffin was charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, which is itself a felony. Wis.Stat. § 941.29(2) (1985-1986). He moved to suppress the evidence seized during the search. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that no warrant was necessary and that the search was reasonable. A jury convicted Griffin of the firearms violation, and he was sentenced to two years' imprisonment. The conviction was affirmed by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, 126 Wis.2d 183, 376 N.W.2d 62 (1985).

On further appeal, the Wisconsin Supreme Court also affirmed. It found denial of the suppression motion proper because probation diminishes a probationer's reasonable expectation of privacy -- so that a probation officer may, consistent with the Fourth Amendment, search a probationer's home without a warrant, and with only "reasonable grounds" (not probable cause) to believe that contraband is present. It held that the "reasonable grounds" standard of Wisconsin's search regulation satisfied this "reasonable grounds" standard of the Federal Constitution, and that the detective's tip established "reasonable grounds" within the meaning of the regulation, since it came from someone who had no reason to supply inaccurate information, [107 S.Ct. 3168] specifically identified Griffin, and suggested a need to verify Griffin's compliance with state law. 131 Wis.2d 41, 52-64, 388 N.W.2d 535, 539-544 (1986).

II

We think the Wisconsin Supreme Court correctly concluded that this warrantless search did not violate the Fourth Amendment. To reach that result, however, we find it unnecessary to embrace a new principle of law, as the Wisconsin court evidently did, that any search of a probationer's home by a probation officer satisfies the Fourth Amendment as long as the information possessed by the officer satisfies a federal "reasonable grounds" standard. As his sentence for the commission of a crime, Griffin was committed to the legal custody of the Wisconsin State Department of Health and

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Social Services, and thereby made subject to that Department's rules and regulations. The search of Griffin's home satisfied the demands of the Fourth Amendment because it was carried out pursuant to a...

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