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Court Will Decide Probation-Search Issue in Wisconsin Case

December 8, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court said today it will decide whether probation officers need a court warrant before they search the homes of people on criminal probation.

The justices agreed to use a case from Beloit, Wis., to determine whether warrantless searches in such cases violate constitutionally protected privacy rights.

Joseph G. Griffin was on probation from a 1980 conviction for disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstructing a police officer when, in 1983, probation official Michael Lew received word that Griffin ″may have guns″ at his residence.

Lew, a supervisor at the Wisconsin Bureau of Community Corrections, said he was notified in a telephone call from Benoit police.

He, probation officer Joanne Johnson and plain clothes officers from the Benoit Police Department went to Griffin’s home about two or three hours after Lew received the telephone call.

A search of the home turned up one handgun.

Griffin subsequently was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm and was sentenced to two years in prison.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld his conviction last June 20, rejecting his argument that the gun should not have been used as evidence against him because it was seized in an unlawful search.

The state court said no search warrant was needed because Griffin, as a person on criminal probation, had a lower expectation of privacy than other citizens.

The state court said probation officials also do not need ″probable cause″ to believe they will find evidence of a crime in a probationer’s home before demanding to search it. The Wisconsin court said officials in such cases need only ″reasonable grounds to believe″ that criminal evidence will be found.

It said such grounds were present in Griffin’s case.

In seeking help from the nation’s highest court, Griffin’s lawyer, Alan Habermehl of Madison, noted that state courts in Florida, Iowa, Montana, Oregon and Texas have ruled that probation officers need court warrants before conducting such searches.

The case is Griffin vs. Wisconsin, 86-5324.