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United States v. Lynch

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

April 6, 2017




         This matter is before the Court on Bobby Dean Lynch, Jr.'s motion to suppress. [DE 22]. The government responded, and the matter is ripe for ruling. For the following reasons, the motion is DENIED.


         Prior to the matters involved in the instant case, Bobby Dean Lynch, Jr. (hereinafter "defendant") pled guilty in Wake County District Court to fleeing or eluding arrest and abusing a child. His sentence was suspended for a period of 12 months, during which time the he was placed on probation under the supervision of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety (NCDPS) Probation Office, Franklin County. The court imposed the regular conditions of probation listed in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-l343(b) and certain special conditions pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1343(bl). One condition of his probation was that the defendant would "[s]ubmit at reasonable times to warrantless searches by a probation officer of the defendant's person and of the defendant's vehicle and premises while the defendant is present, for purposes directly related to the probation supervision."

         Kelvin Davis (hereinafter "Davis") lived in the same house as the defendant. Like defendant, Davis was on supervised probation and was subject to the same conditions of probation, including those listed in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1343(b). Davis' judgment included identical language to the defendant's requiring him to submit to warrantless searches.

         On December 13, 2016, at 6:10 a.m., a team of law enforcement officers arrived at defendant's home, which he shared with Davis, to conduct a warrantless probation search of Davis. At the time of the search, both defendant and Davis were on supervised probation by NCDPS. The search was conducted by NCDPS, local law enforcement, and several probation officers, including Davis' probation officer.

         When the officers arrived, they knocked on the front door of the residence and announced their presence. Officers spoke with Davis, who informed the officers that defendant also lived in the residence and pointed out the room in which defendant was sleeping. Davis then called the defendant out of his bedroom. The officers told defendant that they were there to conduct a warrantless search on Davis and that, for officer safety, defendant should remain in the living room while the search took place. Defendant agreed, and also gave permission for officers to conduct a protective sweep of his room.

         While conducting a protective sweep of the residence, officers identified paraphernalia associated with narcotics distribution and sales such as a digital scale, numerous plastic baggies, and white powder residue in plain view in the kitchen and in Davis' room. Officers also located a stun gun in plain view on a table in the common area of the residence, which defendant admitted belonged to him. Additionally, officers located a firearm holster in Davis' room.

         After these discoveries, officers learned through a computer search that defendant was also subject to warrantless searches according to the conditions of his probation. Defendant then consented to a search of his bedroom, where officers located a loaded firearm on the floor under his dresser. Defendant was subsequently arrested for violating the terms of his probation and was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924. Arraignment is currently pending.

         Defendant submitted the instant motion seeking to suppress the evidence seized and statements made as a result of the search on December 13, 2016, arguing that the warrantless search of his home was unlawful under North Carolina law and violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. [DE 22].


         The Fourth Amendment provides in relevant part that "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated." U.S. Const, amend. IV. "The Fourth Amendment generally requires the police to obtain a warrant before conducting a search." United States v. Kelly, 592 F.3d 586, 589 (4th Cir. 2010). Warrantless searches and seizures are per se unreasonable, subject to a few well-established exceptions. Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357 (1967); Kentucky v. King, 563 U.S. 452, 459-60 (2011). Individuals on probation or parole, "despite a reduced expectation of privacy, " still come "within the ambit of the fourth amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures." United States v. Bradley, 571 F.2d 787, 789 n.2 (4th Cir. 1978). However, "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 Fourth Amendment." Samson v. California, 547 U.S. 843, 847 (2006).

         The Fourth Amendment ultimately tests the reasonableness of a search, including some individualized suspicion, but "imposes no irreducible requirement of such suspicion." Maryland v. King, 133 S.Ct. 1958, 1969 (2013) (quoting United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543, 561 (1976)). Warrantless searches may be reasonable under certain circumstances of public interest or "because an individual is already on notice ... because of... the conditions of his release from government custody." Id. Ultimately, the "touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness, not individualized suspicion." Samson, 547 U.S. at 855 n.4.

         In United States v. Knights, the Supreme Court upheld a warrantless search supported by reasonable suspicion of a probationer who had agreed to warrantless searches as a condition of probation. 534 U.S. 112 (2001). The Supreme Court expressly declined to rule on whether a search of a probationer without individualized suspicion can satisfy the reasonableness requirement of the Fourth Amendment. Id., at 120, n.6. The Court also underscored that the ...

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