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United States v. Knights


The defendant was on probation for a drug offense. He signed a probation order stating he would “[s]ubmit his … person, property, place of residence, vehicle, personal effects, to search at anytime, with or without a search warrant, warrant of arrest or reasonable cause by any probation officer or law enforcement officer.” A police officer became suspicious of the defendant’s activities, and, aware of his probation conditions, searched his apartment. He found evidence of criminal activity (arson) inside.


Whether the condition of probation limits subsequent searches to the defendant’s probation status only?


No. Police officers can conduct criminal evidence searches based on diminished expectations of privacy and conditions of probation.


Probationers do not enjoy the freedoms that other citizens enjoy. In this particular defendant’s probation, the sentencing judge determined the search provision was necessary. This condition effectively diminished the defendant’s reasonable expectation of privacy.

To intrude on this diminished expectation of privacy, the government relied on a search condition of probation. The Court stated “[I]t was reasonable to conclude that the search condition would further the two primary goals of probation–rehabilitation and protecting society from future criminal violations.” Therefore, an officer is entitled to conduct a search when: (1) the probationer is subject to a search condition and (2) the officer establishes reasonable suspicion the probationer engaged in criminal activity (note that a probation officer may search under less stringent standards for probation-related reasons).


534 U.S. 112, 122 S. Ct. 587 (2001)

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