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If I’m on Probation, Can the Police Search Me for Drugs Without a Warrant?

Many drug charges in Texas are resolved by a plea bargain where the defendant is placed on community supervision (probation) in lieu of jail time. It is critical to understand, however, that probation is not getting off scot-free. Rather, your freedom is restricted by the terms of your plea agreement, which among other things may include waivers of certain constitutional rights during the term of your probation.

Defendant Sentenced to 15 Years for Violating Probation

A recent decision from the Texas Ninth District Court of Appeals in Beaumont, McComb v. State, illustrates what we are talking about. In this case, prosecutors charged a defendant with “possession of a controlled substance with the intent to deliver.” The trial court placed the defendant on deferred adjudication. This is a type of probation where the defendant can actually obtain dismissal of the original criminal charge if they successfully complete their community supervision. In other words, the defendant pleads guilty and agrees to probation, but the judge “defers” making a formal finding of guilt.

In this case, the defendant agreed to abide by a number of conditions for his deferred adjudication. This included a requirement that he submit his “person, place of residence and vehicle to search and seizure at any time with or without a search warrant, whenever requested to do so by any law enforcement officer … for the purpose of monitoring whether the defendant is complying with the terms and conditions of community supervision.”

Sometime after the defendant received his deferred adjudication, an informant told the Jacinto County sheriff’s that the defendant was selling methamphetamines out of a Best Western hotel room. The informant also said the defendant used a blue Corvette to “pick up drugs.” Acting on this tip, officers went to the Best Western and confirmed the defendant was staying there.

Normally, the officers would have to get a search warrant at this point before searching the defendant’s hotel room or car. But given the defendant had agreed to warrantless searches as a condition of probation, the officers decided to proceed without a warrant. When confronted, the defendant agreed to let the officers into his hotel room. The officers subsequently found narcotics in the room.

Based on this evidence of new drug offenses, prosecutors moved to revoke the defendant’s probation and adjudicate his guilt on the original drug charge. The judge agreed the evidence showed the defendant violated the conditions of his probation and sentenced him to 15 years in prison. The defendant appealed, arguing that notwithstanding his earlier plea bargain, he never consented to the warrantless search of his hotel room.

The Court of Appeals rejected this argument. Not only did the defendant “consent” when agreed to the terms of his probation, the condition itself was not unconstitutional. While it would be “unreasonable and invalid” to condition probation on permitting law enforcement to conduct warrantless searches “at any time” without restriction, in this case the search was tied to monitoring the defendant’s compliance with the terms of his probation, i.e., that he “refrain from possessing drugs.”

Speak with a Houston Drug Crimes Defense Lawyer Today

Before entering a guilty plea in exchange for probation, you need to carefully consider the legal consequences. An experienced Houston criminal defense attorney can offer you advice and assistance. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, Galveston or League City if you need to speak with a lawyer today. Call (281) 280-0100.