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One of the greatest protections guaranteed to you by the Fourth Amendment is your freedom from warrantless searches unless they fit within a handful of exceptions. However, prosecutors and law enforcement continually try to squeeze everything they can into those exceptions, and judges don’t want to seem “soft on crime,” so they allow it to happen.
An excellent example of this in action comes from a recent case from upstate New York, where an appeals court just rubber stamped a juvenile’s agreement to let police search him, as a part of his probation.
In New York v. King, a 16-year-old with a history of drug and alcohol abuse pled guilty to a charge of attempted sexual abuse. Importantly, the charge he pled guilty to included allegations that he’d exposed his 10-year-old victim to pornography and drugs. During the sentencing phase of his trial, the defendant agreed to conditions attached to his probation.
One of these conditions was that the boy, who was still underage at the time of the appeal court’s decision, sign an agreement to waive his Fourth Amendment rights and allow law enforcement to search him, his home, and his belongings for evidence of a similar crime he’d been convicted for. This effectively gave the police his consent to search whenever they wanted, without having to go through the process of getting a warrant.
Unfortunately, the court of appeals that heard the case decided that this probation condition was perfectly reasonable: It was “properly circumscribed to specified types of searches,” and was thus “tailored to suit defendant and reasonably related to his rehabilitation.”
King is reminiscent of another case from Louisiana, dealing with how consent searches are made and what they include. That case had dealt with the scope of consent searches and began with police asking if they could search a car, but ended with them cutting open vacuum-sealed packages of fish.
The common element is where consent begins, and where it ends. The boy in King just consented to basically anything that the police choose to do in order to get probation. The result allows police free rein to bother him in his personal life and step all over the rights that everyone else is left to enjoy. According to the courts, though, making the teenager effectively a second-class citizen was fine because those searches were somehow related to the crime he had already done time for.
Cases like these bother criminal defense attorneys everywhere, and William T. Bly is no exception. They show how important it is to vigorously defend the rights of those who have been accused of a crime throughout the process, from the arrest all the way through the sentencing and into the appeals process. Contact his law office online or by calling (207) 571-8146 if you’re facing a criminal charge in the state of Maine.
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