GRIFFIN V. WISCONSIN, 483 U. S. 868 (1987)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Griffin v. Wisconsin, 483 U.S. 868 (1987)

Griffin v. Wisconsin

No. 86-5324

Argued April 20, 1987

Decided June 26, 1987

483 U.S. 868


Wisconsin law places probationers in the legal custody of the State Department of Health and Social Services and renders them "subject to . . . conditions set by the . . . rules and regulations established by the department." One such regulation permits any probation officer to search a probationer's home without a warrant as long as his supervisor approves and as long as there are "reasonable grounds" to believe the presence of contraband. In determining whether "reasonable grounds" exist, an officer must consider a variety of factors, including information provided by an informant, the reliability and specificity of that information, the informant's reliability, the officer's experience with the probationer, and the need to verify compliance with the rules of probation and with the law. Another regulation forbids a probationer to possess a firearm without a probation officer's advance approval. Upon information received from a police detective that there were or might be guns in petitioner probationer's apartment, probation officers searched the apartment and found a handgun. Petitioner was tried and convicted of the felony of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, the state trial court having denied his motion to suppress the evidence seized during the search after concluding that no warrant was necessary and that the search was reasonable. The State Court of Appeals and the State Supreme Court affirmed.


1. The warrantless search of petitioner's residence was "reasonable" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment because it was conducted pursuant to a regulation that is itself a reasonable response to the "special needs" of a probation system. Pp. 483 U. S. 872-880.

(a) Supervision of probationers is a "special need" of the State that may justify departures from the usual warrant and probable cause requirements. Supervision is necessary to ensure that probation restrictions are in fact observed, that the probation serves as a genuine rehabilitation period, and that the community is not harmed by the probationer's being at large. Pp. 483 U. S. 873-875.

(b) The search regulation is valid because the "special needs" of Wisconsin's probation system make the warrant requirement impracticable and justify replacement of the probable cause standard with the regulation's "reasonable grounds" standard. It is reasonable to dispense with the warrant requirement here, since such a requirement

Page 483 U. S. 869

would interfere to an appreciable degree with the probation system by setting up a magistrate, rather than the probation officer, as the determiner of how closely the probationer must be supervised, by making it more difficult for probation officials to respond quickly to evidence of misconduct, and by reducing the deterrent effect that the possibility of expeditious searches would otherwise create. Moreover, unlike the police officer who conducts the ordinary search, the probation officer is required to have the probationer's welfare particularly in mind. A probable cause requirement would unduly disrupt the probation system by reducing the deterrent effect of the supervisory arrangement and by lessening the range of information the probation officer could consider in deciding whether to search. The probation agency must be able to act based upon a lesser degree of certainty in order to intervene before the probationer damages himself or society, and must be able to proceed on the basis of its entire experience with the probationer and to assess probabilities in the light of its knowledge of his life, character, and circumstances. Thus, it is reasonable to permit information provided by a police officer, whether or not on the basis of firsthand knowledge, to support a probationary search. All that is required is that the information provided indicates, as it did here, the likelihood of facts justifying the search. Pp. 483 U. S. 875-880.

2. The conclusion that the regulation in question was constitutional makes it unnecessary to consider whether any search of a probationer's home is lawful when there are "reasonable grounds" to believe contraband is present. 483 U. S. 880.

131 Wis.2d 41, 388 N.W.2d 535, affirmed.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J.,and WHITE, POWELL, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, in Parts I-B and I-C of which BRENNAN, J., joined, and in Part I-C of which STEVENS, J., joined, post p. 483 U. S. 881. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post p. 483 U. S. 890.

Page 483 U. S. 870

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