The Arizona Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a trial court judge was wrong when he decided that a search of a probationer's home without a warrant violated his rights.
The high court decision means a drug and weapons case that had been dismissed against a convicted crack cocaine dealer can be refiled. More broadly, it means that people on probation can't move to exclude evidence seized during many warrantless searches.
The case involves a 2012 tip police received that 36-year-old Christian Adair was again selling cocaine. Officers set up surveillance but saw nothing.
Officers then called the Maricopa County probation department, which found crack cocaine, scales, cash and a gun in a search authorized under Adair's probation terms.
Adair was charged with possessing drugs for sale, illegal weapons possession and a drug paraphernalia charge.
His lawyer argued probation officials had no reasonable basis to search and a Maricopa County Superior Court judge agreed. Now-retired Judge Robert Gottsfield wrote in his ruling that a "probation search must be supported by a reasonable suspicion, or a reasonable basis, or reasonable grounds to believe the probationer has violated the terms of his probation or is engaging in criminal activity." The Maricopa County Attorney's Office moved to dismiss the charges while it appealed Gottsfield's ruling.
The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that the trial judge used the wrong standard in determining if the search was reasonable and ordered him to reconsider his ruling using the right standard. They ruled that Gottsfield should have looked at the totality of the circumstances to determine if the search violated Adair's Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches.
The high court went further, saying there's clear evidence the search was legal and therefore no need for the lower court to revisit whether to exclude the evidence.
"Although we agree with the court of appeals that the reasonableness of the search depends on the totality of the circumstances, and thus the trial court applied the wrong legal standard, we find no need to remand for the trial court to revisit Adair's motion to suppress," Vice Chief Justice John Pelander wrote in the unanimous ruling. "The record, even when viewed in a light most favorable to upholding the ruling below, establishes that the search was reasonable."
Pelander noted that Adair was a known probationer subject to a valid condition of warrantless searches, probation officers conducted a proper search and the search wasn't arbitrary or intended to harass Adair.
Most importantly, Pelander wrote, Adair had specifically agreed to a probation condition allowing warrantless searches.
"This is an important decision for our prosecutors and law enforcement partners in Maricopa County," Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said in a statement. "Probation conditions by their very nature allow for unrestricted access, and in cases like these must be allowed to ensure that repeat offenders do not continue to perpetrate crimes in our communities."
County attorney spokeswoman Amanda Jacinto said prosecutors could move to re-indict Adair, but must wait to see if his defense attorneys appeal the decision in federal court. Adair's public defender, Mikel Steinfeld, said office policy prohibited him from commenting.