United States v. Knights, 534 U.S. 112 (2001)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

No. 00-1260. Argued November 6, 2001—Decided December 10, 2001

A California court's order sentencing respondent Knights to probation for a drug offense included the condition that Knights submit to search at anytime, with or without a search or arrest warrant or reasonable cause, by any probation or law enforcement officer. Subsequently, a sheriff's detective, with reasonable suspicion, searched Knights' apartment. Based in part on items recovered, a federal grand jury indicted Knights for conspiracy to commit arson, for possession of an unregistered destructive device, and for being a felon in possession of ammunition. In granting Knights' motion to suppress, the District Court held that, although the detective had "reasonable suspicion" to believe that Knights was involved with incendiary materials, the search was for "investigatory" rather than "probationary" purposes. The Ninth Circuit affirmed.

Held: The warrantless search of Knights, supported by reasonable suspicion and authorized by a probation condition, satisfied the Fourth Amendment. As nothing in Knights' probation condition limits searches to those with a "probationary" purpose, the question here is whether the Fourth Amendment imposes such a limitation. Knights argues that a warrantless search of a probationer satisfies the Fourth Amendment only if it is just like the search at issue in Griffin v. Wisconsin, 483 U. S. 868, i. e., a "special needs" search conducted by a probation officer monitoring whether the probationer is complying with probation restrictions. This dubious logic—that an opinion upholding the constitutionality of a particular search implicitly holds unconstitutional any search that is not like it—runs contrary to Griffin's express statement that its "special needs" holding made it "unnecessary to consider whether" warrantless searches of probationers were otherwise reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Id., at 878, 880. And this Court need not decide whether Knights' acceptance of the search condition constituted consent to a complete waiver of his Fourth Amendment rights in the sense of Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U. S. 218, because the search here was reasonable under the Court's general Fourth Amendment "totality of the circumstances" approach, Ohio v. Robinette, 519 U. S. 33, 39, with the search condition being a salient circumstance. The Fourth Amendment's touchstone is reasonableness, and a search's reasonableness is determined by assessing, on the one hand, the degree

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