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Can my home be searched without a search warrant while I'm on parole or probation?

UPDATED: February 20, 2013

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As a general rule, your home can be searched without a search warrant while on parole or probation. The search can include your home, car, and person. The search must be conducted, however, by the appropriate state agency.

Rules for Home Searches

If you are on probation, the probation officer must be the one to conduct the search of your house. A police officer or child welfare worker does not have the same authority, even though you're on probation. If the probation officer has concerns for their safety, they may request that a law enforcement officer be present and on “stand-by” for security purposes only.

The law enforcement officer is not authorized to assist in the warrantless search of your home. Only their presence is authorized. The only time they are allowed to act is if the probation or parole officer finds illegal contraband, such as drugs or firearms. The illegal materials, whatever they may be, can then be turned over to the police officer who can make an on-site arrest.

How and when your home can be searched without a warrant will depend on the criminal rules of your state. Some states authorize probation officers or parole officers to search your home at any time without prior authorization. Other states require the warrantless search requirement to be included in an order as part of your conditions of probation. Meaning, if the order that presented your conditions of supervision does not require you to consent to a warrantless search, they cannot compel you to do so.

As a general requirement under federal law for either situation, the probation officer or parole officer must have "reasonable suspicion" that you actually reside in the home they are searching. Reasonable suspicion is one of the lowest legal requirements in criminal law, but it still requires the officer to have some information linking the parolee or probationer as a resident to a house. This means they can’t search your friend’s house just because you visit them frequently. They must have some evidence that you are actually living with your friend.

How Much of the Parolee's Home can be Searched?

Once the parole officer or probation officer has authorization by an order or state law, how much of your home and property they can search without a warrant will depend on the criminal laws in your jurisdiction. A good number of states allow officers to search the entire house. Some, however, do restrict access to only the parts of the house accessible to you as a tenant. If you rent a room in a house, and the owner of the house has his or her own bedroom, some states will not allow the officer to violate someone else’s privacy interests by searching their bedroom.

This will vary per situation, so it's never a good idea to stash contraband in someone else's room and you shouldn't be tempted to do so. Further, if you think a roommate may be engaging in illegal activity, you need to make plans to move to a new home so that you do not get tripped by their illegal actions.

Property Search and Seizure Rules

Depending on your state’s criminal laws, you may also be required to turn over certain property in your home for inspection without a search warrant. A parolee or probationer for a sexually related offense may be required to let the probation officer inspect any electronic equipment for inappropriate messages, content, photos, or videos without a warrant. This inspection includes cell phones and computers.

If the probation officer or parole officer finds contraband during the warrantless search they can have the items seized as evidence that you violated your conditions of parole or probation. If the contraband constitutes a new offense, you may also face more charges and jail time. The best rule of thumb is to comply with the terms of your probation or parole.

Getting Help

If you have questions regarding the terms of your probation or parole, consult with your parole or probation officer or a criminal defense attorney for clarification.

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