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Posted on: November 22, 2016

Probationers Subject to Warrantless Search in Arizona Supreme Court Opinion

PHOENIX— On Tuesday, November 22, 2016, the Arizona Supreme Court issued an opinion in the case of State of Arizona v. Christian Adair. The case concerns the constitutional standards that apply to a warrantless search of a probationer’s residence. The court found that such a search complies with the Fourth Amendment if it is reasonable under the totality of the circumstances and that its legality does not hinge on whether it is supported by reasonable suspicion.

“This is an important decision for our prosecutors and law enforcement partners in Maricopa County,” said Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. “Probation conditions by their very nature allow for unrestricted access, and in cases like these must be allowed to ensure that repeat offenders do not continue to perpetrate crimes in our communities.”

In March 2012, Christian Adair was placed on supervised probation for two felony drug sale convictions. Under his courtorder terms of probation, Adair agreed to submit to searches of his person and property by the probation department. These searches could be conducted without a search warrant and Adair would be required to provide the probation department unrestricted access to his residence.

In December 2012, an informant told police that Adair was still selling drugs and that Adair’s young child might have accompanied him during such sales. The probation department conducted a warrantless search of Adair’s residence accompanied by police at the probation department’s request. The officers entered and seized crack cocaine, scales, packaging materials, cash, a gun, and ammunition.

Adair moved to suppress the items seized during the search, arguing that it was a warrantless, pretextual police search, not a search by probation officers. After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court rejected that argument. In a motion for reconsideration, Adair argued that the evidence should be suppressed because the probation officers lacked “reasonable suspicion” for the search. The trial court granted the motion to suppress. The Court of Appeals subsequently remanded the matter back to the trial court to determine whether the search was reasonable under the totality of the circumstances.

Today’s Supreme Court opinion reverses the superior court’s order granting Adair’s motion to suppress and finds the search reasonable under the totality of the circumstances. The case is now remanded to the superior court for further proceedings.

The defense may file a petition to have the case heard by the US Supreme Court. If it is not further appealed, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office can move toward an indictment for Adair on charges of felony possession of narcotic drugs for sale, possession of drug paraphernalia, and misconduct involving weapons.

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