In U.S. v. Carter, No. 08-14460 (April 27, 2009), the Court held that "reasonable suspicion" sufficed to justify a warrantless search of the home of a probationer.
Carter was serving probation after arrests for battery and possession of cocaine. Carter’s probation officer became suspicious that Carter was engaging in drug trafficking after noticing changes in Carter’s lifestyle (despite a meager income), his association with a person with a criminal record, and his apparent gang affiliation. The officer searched Carter’s home and found evidence that led to Carter’s prosecution for crack cocaine trafficking and gun possession.
Citing the balancing test of U.S. v. Knights, 534 U.S. 112 (2001), the Court held that reasonable suspicion for the search sufficed under the Fourth Amendment. The Court noted Carter’s diminished privacy interest as a probationer. The Court further noted the government’s interest in monitoring a probationer, because of his propensity to commit more crimes. The Court recognized that the conditions of Carter’s probation did not authorize warrantless searches. Nevertheless, on balance, the search of Carter’s home based on reasonable suspicion was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.
The Court found that the facts supported the probation officer’s reasonable suspicion, noting that Carter "appeared to live well beyond his means."