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Name: People v. Wolfgang
Case #: E059661
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 10/05/2015
Summary

Deputy sheriff’s warrantless search of defendant’s bedroom was not unreasonable although it was based on misinformation regarding defendant’s probation status. A Riverside Sheriff Deputy was dispatched to a modular home in response to a “suspicious activity” call. The officer ran the license plate of a trailer he located on the property and was told it had been reported stolen. The officer knocked on the door of the home and Wolfgang answered. He provided the officer with identification. The deputy ran a record check and was advised by dispatch that Wolfgang was on probation for brandishing a weapon. The deputy assumed Wolfgang was subject to a search condition because the offense involved a weapon. He conducted a probation search and found a loaded gun. Later, the deputy later learned that Wolfgang’s probation for brandishing a weapon had ended a month before the search. However, Wolfgang was on probation for an unrelated felony and was subject to search terms. Wolfgang’s motion to suppress evidence of the gun was denied and he appealed. Held: Affirmed. An officer must have advance knowledge of a probationer’s search conditions at the time a probation search is conducted to uphold a warrantless search under the consent exception to the warrant requirement. Here, the officer believed appellant was on probation for brandishing a weapon and, in his experience, probation for such offenses always involves search terms. However, Wolfgang was actually on probation for another offense and subject to search terms. “Application of the exclusionary rule to the facts here would not serve a deterrent purpose, nor would upholding the search impugn judicial integrity.” The information received from the dispatcher, combined with the officer’s awareness of the usual terms of probation, was sufficient to convey to the officer that Wolfgang was searchable.

Even if the search cannot be justified as incident to probation, it was justified on another basis. A search of a person who is on probation and subject to a search term, of which the officer is unaware, violates the Fourth Amendment only if it is otherwise unlawful. Even assuming that a searching officer must be specifically informed that a defendant’s probation contains a search term, that does not mean the search here was unrelated to another legitimate law enforcement purpose or that it was arbitrary or harassing. At most, the deputy made a legal error by not confirming that Wolfgang’s probation had a search term and therefore mistakenly believed his search was justified. Based on the “suspicious activity” call, the discovery of the stolen trailer and information that Wolfgang was on probation for a weapons offense, the officer had a legitimate law enforcement purpose for his search, i.e., the belief that Wolfgang was connected to a criminal offense. Because the search was conducted for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and Wolfgang waived his Fourth Amendment rights when he accepted probation, the search was not unconstitutional.