Samson v. California
547 U.S. 843, 126 S. Ct. 2193, 165 L. Ed.2d 258 (2006)

  • Samson was walking down the street minding his own business. A policeman noticed him and remembered that Samson was on parole.
    • Under the California Penal Code (Cal. Penal Code Ann. §3067(a)), Samson was required to allow any “search and seizure by a parole officer or other peace officer at any time of the night or day, with or without a search warrant or with or without cause.”
  • The policeman searched Samson and found some drugs. He was arrested.
  • At trial, Samson made a motion to suppress the evidence on the grounds that the search was a violation of his 4th Amendment right to privacy.
  • The Trial Court convicted Samson of drug possession. He appealed.
  • The Appellate Court upheld the conviction. Samson appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court upheld the conviction.
    • The US Supreme Court found that suspicionless searches of parolees are lawful and that the search in this case was reasonable under the 4th Amendment because it was not arbitrary, capricious, or harassing.
      • “A condition of release can so diminish or eliminate a released prisoner’s reasonable expectation of privacy that a suspicionless search by a law enforcement officer would not offend the 4th Amendment.”
    • The Court found that parolees have a diminished expectation of privacy, because they are sorta almost in prison. Samson could have chosen to stay in prison and be subject to very strict rules, or get out on parole and be subject to less strict rules (although stricter than a non-convict).
      • “In most cases, the State is willing to extend parole only because it is able to condition it upon compliance with certain requirements.”
      • The Court noted that Samson signed the parole forms, and was unambiguously aware of the conditions.
        • In a way, it was a consent search.
      • Although, the reason suspicionless searches are allowed in prison is that they are administrative searches designed to maintain a safe prison. But that same excuse doesn’t apply to people on parole, so is it really a good argument?
  • In a dissent it was argued that suspicionless searches like these were the “very evil the 4th Amendment was intended to stamp out.” In addition, it left the parolee at the whim of whatever police officer wandered by with some time on his hands.
    • However, the Court noted that the California law prevented the police from conducting “arbitrary, capricious, or harassing” searches, so there was at least some procedural safeguards on police behavior.
  • In general, administrative searches are only constitutional for special needs outside of ordinary law enforcement. But that isn’t the case here.
    • Although it was argued that there is a special need to help parolees reintegrate with society.
  • Courts usually require administrative searches to be non-discretionary, but that isn’t the case here. The policeman chose to search Samson.
    • See Delaware v. Prouse (440 U.S. 648 (1979)).