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Woman argues her Fourth Amendment rights were violated: State Court of Appeals rules in case

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Jan. 7 in favor of a 27-year-old Pennington woman regarding a probation condition requiring her to submit random spot check chemical testing by police.

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The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Jan. 7 in favor of a 27-year-old Pennington woman regarding a probation condition requiring her to submit random spot check chemical testing by police.

The Court of Appeals agreed, reversing in part and remanding the Crow Wing County District Court's decision regarding Tara Marie Cournoyer on her sentencing on a controlled substance conviction. Cournoyer was sentenced to five years of supervised probation and conditions of her probation includes she is required to submit random spot-check testing at the request of any licensed peace officer, probation agent of correctional officer.

The decision was considered and decided by Presiding Judge Jill Flaskamp Halbrooks and Judges Lucinda E. Jesson and Diane B. Bratvold.

According to the unpublished appeals court opinion, Cournoyer argued her Fourth Amendment rights were violated by the district court on two issues: conditions allowing random chemical testing initiated by law enforcement and suspicionless searches of her person, property and residence.

"Because the district court erred by imposing a condition that allowed police officers to initiate warrantless chemical testing, we reverse the portion of the district court's order imposing that condition. And because reasonable suspicion is required to conduct other warrantless searches of a probationer's person, property, workplace, or home, we remand to the district court to clarify its order relating to those searches," Judge Jesson stated in the appeals court document.

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More on the appeals court decision

Cournoyer argued the district court's probation condition of warrantless drug testing by law enforcement without the supervision of probation agents violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The parties agreed in this context, Cournoyer's condition of random testing refers to testing for illegal substances, which is most often urine testing. A urine test is a search subject to the Fourth Amendment, the document stated.

The state, on the other hand, argued based on Cournoyer's past history of drug use, it was reasonable for police officers, as well as probation agents, to monitor her probation.

The appeals court concluded the condition of random testing at the request of police, rather than probation officers, did not meet Fourth Amendment requirements for a reasonable search. The court stated the supreme court recognized there is a "special relationship" between probation officers and probationers and based on this relationship, the probation officer is required to work toward the probationer's rehabilitation, as well as protecting the public's interest.

The district court also imposed probation conditions allowing random searches of Cournoyer's home, person, vehicle, workplace or property, and require her to cooperate with these searches as directed by probation. The parties agreed these conditions apply to searches that do not involve chemical testing.

Cournoyer argued the district court erred by imposing these probation conditions without articulating that reasonable suspicion is required to conduct such searches, the document stated. The state made its argument by citing two cases where reasonable suspicion is required for such searches. The appeals court agreed with the state, but stated the district court made no findings on the reasonableness of the condition allowing random searches of her home, person and property; and require the conditions imposed by the district court to be clarified.

The appeals court document summarized by stating: "Because the district court abused its discretion by imposing a probation condition that required Cournoyer to submit to random spot check chemical testing by police that was not initiated by probation, we reverse that portion of the district court's order. We remand the portions of the district court's order dealing with random searches of Cournoyer's home, person, vehicles, workplace, and property, and the general condition requiring her to submit to such searches, to clarify that the district court correctly applied the reasonable-suspicion standard in ordering those conditions."

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