USA v. Knights

Decision Date11 July 2000
Docket NumberNo. 99-10538,99-10538
Citation219 F.3d 1138
Parties(9th Cir. 2000) UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. MARK JAMES KNIGHTS; STEVEN SIMONEAU, Defendants-Appellees. Office of the Circuit Executive
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit

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.


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 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 enforcement officer." Relying upon that and the authorization of his supervisor, Hancock proceeded.

He began to organize the search at about 5:00 a.m. that morning, and conducted it at 8:00 a.m. after breaking through a door and entering the apartment where Knights was still abed. The search was productive. It turned up detonation cord, ammunition, unidentified liquid chemicals, instruction manuals on chemistry and electrical circuitry, bolt cutters, telephone pole-climbing spurs, drug paraphernalia, photographs and blueprints stolen from the burglarized building, and a brass padlock stamped PG&E. Needless to say, Knights was arrested.

Ultimately, Knights found himself in federal court because he was indicted for conspiracy to commit arson, for possession of an unregistered destructive device, and for being a felon in possession of ammunition. See 18 U.S.C. SS 371, 922(g); 26 U.S.C. S 5861(d). He moved to suppress the evidence seized in the June 3, 1998, search, and the government asserted that it was conducted pursuant to a probation consent. The district court agreed with Knights that the claimed probation search was really a subterfuge for an investigative search and ordered suppression. This appeal followed.


A district court's determination of whether there was consent to search is generally treated as a factual determination, but we have said that in "determining whether as a general rule certain types of actions give rise to an inference of consent, de novo review is appropriate." United States v. Shaibu, 920 F.2d 1423, 1425 (9th Cir. 1990). The district court's conclusion that the probation search of Knights' apartment was a subterfuge for a criminal investigation is a factual determination which we review for clear error. See United States v. Watts, 67 F.3d 790, 793-94 (9th Cir. 1995), rev'd on other grounds, 519 U.S. 148, 117 S. Ct. 633, 136 L. Ed. 2d 554 (1997).


The difficulties at the interface between a person's right to the security of his home and the needs of law enforcement are sempiternal. Nonetheless, the balance is weighted in favor of the home dweller for reasons with a weighty ancient lineage. Coke's Reports reflect that: "the house of every one is to him as his . . . castle and fortress, as well for his defence against injury and violence, as for his repose. . . ." Semayne's Case 5 Coke's Rep. 91a, 91b (K.B. 1603). That meant not only that a person could defend his home against miscreants, but also that the King's officers were required to give proper notice before entry and had to enter in accordance with the law. See id. at 91b-92a. Sir Matthew Hale, who died in 1676, also emphasized that "every man by the law hath a special protection in reference to his house and dwelling." 1 Matthew Hale, Pleas of the Crown 547 (1736). And we read in Wood's Institutes that a sheriff cannot break into a home without first giving proper notice, and signifying the cause. See Thomas Wood, An Institute of the Laws of England 71 (1734). More than that, "[i]f a Justice of Peace makes a Warrant upon a bare Surmise, and by Virtue thereof One breaks a House . . . It is against Magna Charta." Id. at 615. Finally, as Blackstone said: "the law of England has so particular and tender a regard to the immunity of a man's house, that it styles it his castle, and will never suffer it to be violated with impunity; agreeing herein with the sentiments of antient Rome . . . . " 4 William Blackstone, Commentaries *223 (1765).

But venerable as they are, we need not depend solely on the words of English judges and lawyers for our protections. The Fourth Amendment carried forward and burnished the principles upon which they relied when it commanded that "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated. . . ." As Justice Story has told us, that amendment "seems indispensable to the full enjoyment of the rights of personal security, personal liberty, and private property. It is little more than the affirmance of a great constitutional doctrine of the common law." See Joseph Story, Commentaries on The Constitution of the United States, S 1902 (2nd ed. 1851). That was echoed and elaborated upon by the redoubtable Thomas M. Cooley, who wrote:"[E]very man's house is his castle. The meaning of this is that every man under the protection of the laws may close the door of his habitation, and defend his privacy in it, not...

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13 cases
  • U.S. v. Kincade
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit
    • August 18, 2004
    ...rejected that peculiar logic in Knights — while reversing, incidentally, a decision Judge Reinhardt had joined, see United States v. Knights, 219 F.3d 1138 (9th Cir.2000). See supra at 827 (discussing and quoting Knights, 534 U.S. at 117-18, 122 S.Ct. 587). In the spirit of Knights, we note......
  • State v. Short, 12–1150.
    • United States
    • Iowa Supreme Court
    • July 18, 2014 seen as limited to probation searches, and must stop short of investigation searches.’ ” See id. (quoting United States v. Knights, 219 F.3d 1138, 1142–43 (9th Cir.2000)). A unanimous Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the court of appeals. See id. at 122, 122 S.Ct. at 593, 151 L.Ed.2d......
  • State v. Baca
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of New Mexico
    • March 1, 2004
    ...Knights in its appellate brief and Defendant minimally drew Knights to our attention indicating it "overruled" United States v. Knights, 219 F.3d 1138 (9th Cir.2000). 2. Defendant cites State v. Cardenas-Alvarez, 2001-NMSC-017, ¶ 21, 130 N.M. 386, 25 P.3d 225 (ruling that prolonged border p......
  • U.S. v. Crawford
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit
    • June 21, 2004
    ...several evidentiary hearings, the district court denied Defendant's motion to suppress. Relying on our decision in United States v. Knights, 219 F.3d 1138 (9th Cir.2000), later rev'd and remanded, 534 U.S. 112, 122 S.Ct. 587, 151 L.Ed.2d 497 (2001), the district court held that the search o......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
    • United States
    • Case Western Reserve Law Review Vol. 71 No. 1, September 2020
    • September 22, 2020
    ...(34.) United States v. Knights, 534 U.S. 112, 118-19 (2001). (35.) See id. at 114. (36.) See id. at 114-15; United States v. Knights, 219 F.3d 1138, 1140-41 (9th Cir. 2000), rev'd, 534 U.S. 112 (2001). (37.) Petition for Writ of Certiorari at I, United States v. Knights, 534 U.S. 112 (2001)......

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