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Motion to Suppress Denied: Court OKs Warrantless Search

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

“Reformed” wrong-doers fighting felon in possession of a firearm charges shouldn't expect the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to lend a sympathetic ear to their appellate plight.

Last week, the Second Circuit reversed a district court evidence suppression decision, finding that a parole officer's warrantless search of a storage facility adjacent to a parolee's home was proper under the "special needs" exception to the Fourth Amendment.

Jimmy Lee Barner was released from a New York prison in 2007. Under the conditions of Barner's parole, Barner's "person, residence and property [were] subject to search and inspection," he agreed to allow his parole officer to visit and search him at his home or workplace, and he was subject to a curfew. Barner was also subject to the usual parole limitations: he was prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm, ammunition, or bulletproof clothing or shields.

In 2008, Barner's parole officer, LaSonya Spearman, went to Barner's residence during curfew hours to follow up on a complaint that Barner had fired a gun at someone. Since Barner was neither at home nor available by phone during curfew hours, Spearman obtained a parole violation arrest warrant and arrested Barner during his next weekly parole appointment.

Spearman informed Barner about the firearm allegations. Barner denied having a firearm, and didn't object to parole officers searching his residence.

Officers found crack cocaine in Barner's apartment, and four firearms, a bulletproof vest, two loaded magazines of ammunition, a scale, and some marijuana in a storage room across the hallway from the apartment.

Barner was charged as a felon in possession of a firearm.

The district court granted Barner's motion to suppress the storage room evidence. The court agreed that Barner was not released to parole at the time of the search because he was under arrest for a parole violation, therefore his release conditions were not in effect.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court, finding that the warrantless search did not violate the Fourth Amendment because Officer Spearman's search was reasonably-related to her duty to investigate the parole violation. The circuit noted that, under the special needs exception, the storage room search was proper because it was rationally and reasonably related to the parole officers' duties, and was performed in furtherance of the special needs of the New York State parole system.

It seems like we read a felon in possession of a firearm at least once a day. If you represent a former felon, tell him to ditch the gun. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals does not interpret the law in favor of firearm-wielding felons, and is likely to find that a warrantless search of a convicted felon's person or property falls within the special needs of a parole officer's duties.

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