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

2012-06-29 12:18:25

Joseph Griffin, a convicted felon, was released from prison into a probation program. The state placed probationers in the legal custody of the Wisconsin Department of Health and Human Services, which monitored their activities and subjected them to regulations and restrictions that normal citizens need not bear. One such regulation allowed probation officers to search the property and residences of probationers without obtaining a warrant. The officer must certify to supervisors that ‘‘reasonable grounds’’ existed to execute a search, but need not meet the standard of ‘‘probable cause’’ normally required by the Fourth Amendment.

Upon receipt of a tip from a police detective that Griffin likely possessed a firearm in his residence, probation officers executed a search and recovered the firearm. The state trial court denied Griffin’s motion to suppress the evidence resulting from the search, and subsequent appeals at the state level affirmed that decision.

Writing for a majority of the Court, Justice Scalia concluded that the warrantless search did not offend the Fourth Amendment. He wrote, ‘‘Probation is simply one point . . .on a continuum of possible punishments ranging from solitary confinement in a maximum-security facility to a few hours of mandatory community service.’’ Though not behind the walls of a prison, Griffin remained in the custody of the state penal system and was thus subject to regulations related to protecting the citizenry from possible adverse behavior. Criminals in the rehabilitation system do not enjoy the same rights and privileges as the general citizenry, and thus Griffin had a reduced expectation of privacy and protection against search.


Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471
  • New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S.325
  • O’Connor v. Ortega, 480 U.S.709
  • Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573

See also Search (General Definition)