Monday, December 20, 2010

Warrantless Suspicionless Searches of Parolees By General Law Enforcement Officers Invalidated

State v. Ochoa, no. 08-412,(Iowa Dec. 17, 2010).

This long-running case may prove to be something of a watershed in the annals of Iowa search and seizure law.

It seems that an officer in the Kingdom of Scott became aware that Ochoa was staying in a motel and that Ochoa was a parolee. Because parolees agreed in their parole contract they could be searched at any time, the officer searched Ochoa's room at the motel and found narcotics and paraphernalia. Ochoa moved to suppress the evidence, which was granted in the district court.

The discussion in the district court centered around whether the search provision of the parole contract was a blanket submission to search, or whether it meant refusal would result in a parole violation.

That suppression was undone by the Iowa Court of Appeals, and on further appeal the Supreme Court reinstated the original suppression.

In reversing, the Iowa Supreme Court states "We conclude that a parolee may not be subject to broad, warrantless searches by a general law enforcement officer without any particularized suspicion or limitations to the scope of the search. The power asserted by the state in this case too closely resembles authority pursuant to a general warrant, provides no meaningful mechanism to control arbitrary searches, avoids the warrant preference rule that this court traditionally recognizes, utilizes a balancing test that improperly weighs the interests involved, and does not adequately recognize the security and sanctity interest of parolees in their homes."

The holding did not consider the power of parole officers to conduct such searches or the standards that might be applied thereto.