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State v. Brignac

Supreme Court of Louisiana

October 18, 2017

STATE OF LOUISIANA
v.
KAYLA BRIGNAC

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEAL, FOURTH CIRCUIT, PARISH OF ORLEANS

          JOHNSON, CHIEF JUSTICE.

         The underlying issue in this case concerns the reasonableness of a warrantless search of a probationer's residence by multi-agency state and federal law enforcement personnel. Specifically, we are called upon to determine whether the search violated Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure Article 895(A)(13)(a), which provides as a condition of probation that the defendant agree "to searches of … his place of residence … at any time, by the probation officer … assigned to him, with or without a warrant … when the probation officer … has reasonable suspicion to believe that the person who is on probation is engaged in or has been engaged in criminal activity."

         After review of the law and record, and considering the arguments of the parties, we hold that the warrantless search of defendant's residence violated the provisions of Article 895(A)(13)(a) because the search was not conducted by the probation officer assigned to her. We further find that violation of this statute constituted an unconstitutional search under Louisiana Constitution Article I, §5, requiring exclusion of the evidence pursuant to Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure Article 703(C). Thus, we reverse the ruling of the court of appeal and reinstate the ruling of the district court which granted defendant's motion to suppress the evidence.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The charges against defendant, Kayla Brignac, stem from a warrantless search of her residence on March 8, 2016. On that date, two officers from the New Orleans District of Probation and Parole, Chris Turner and Tiffany Eagles, along with officers from the United States Marshals Office, the A.T.F (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives), and the Louisiana State Police conducted a search of Ms. Brignac's residence at 524 ½ Bourbon Street in New Orleans.

         Officer Turner testified the "residence check" was prompted because the probation department received information from another law enforcement agency that Ms. Brignac may be involved in the sale of narcotics. During the search of the residence, officers found Ms. Brignac in a bedroom and observed what appeared to be a burned marijuana cigarette in plain view. The officers then searched the kitchen and found miscellaneous pills and drug paraphernalia. Officers discovered additional contraband on the porch.

         According to testimony, Officers Turner and Eagles were not the probation officers regularly assigned to Ms. Brignac; the sole probation officer assigned to Ms. Brignac was Officer Rebecca Soileau. Officer Soileau had previously performed a residence verification for Ms. Brignac.

         On May 6, 2016, the state filed a bill of information charging defendant with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute; possession of oxycodone; possession of marijuana (third offense); and possession of a legend drug. Defendant filed various motions, including a motion to suppress the evidence. The district court held a hearing on August 9, 2016, and denied the motion to suppress. Ms. Brignac subsequently filed a motion for reconsideration of the motion to suppress, essentially arguing it was unlawful for the state to use a probation officer not assigned to her as a means to conduct a warrantless search of her home by a multi-agency task force, and further that the search was not based on "reasonable suspicion." Following argument on the motion for reconsideration, the district court granted defendant's motion to suppress the evidence. Considering La. C.Cr. P. art. 895(A)(13)(a) and the jurisprudence relating to searches of probationers, the district court found it "compelling" that Officer Soileau was the sole probation officer assigned to defendant's case and that the other probation officers were not regularly assigned to defendant. The district court found Probation Officers Turner and Eagles were "simply there in order to effect a warrantless search … at the behest of outside agencies." The court further found this was "clearly not a residency check, " rather "this was a search, based on a tip." The district court concluded that the search "smack[ed] of subterfuge to the point where … Probation and Parole was being utilized in a manner in which they were legally not able to do so."

         The court of appeal reversed, finding the officers acted legally when they conducted the warrantless search. State v. Brignac, 16-1160, p. 3 (La.App. 4 Cir. 1/18/17), -- So.3d --. The court explained:

Individuals on probation possess a diminished expectation of privacy. This reduced expectation of privacy is based on a probationer's conviction and agreement to allow a probation officer to investigate his activities in order to confirm that the probationer is in compliance with the provisions of his probation. That reduced expectation of privacy authorizes reasonable warrantless searches of their persons and residences by their probation or parole officer, even though less than probable cause may be shown.
This Court has recognized that a probationer is not subject to the unrestrained power of the authorities, and a search of the probationer may not be a subterfuge for a police investigation. However, a probation officer may conduct a warrantless search of a probationer's property when the officer believes such a search is necessary in the performance of his duties, and must be reasonable in light of the total atmosphere in which it takes place. In order to determine reasonableness we must consider (1) the scope of the particular intrusion, (2) the manner in which it was conducted, (3) the justification for initiating it, and (4) the place in which it was conducted.

Brignac, at p. 2 (internal citations removed). The appellate court found the officers possessed reasonable suspicion to conduct a search of defendant's residence based on information that she may be involved in the sale of illegal narcotics. Id. at p. 3. The appellate court also noted the marijuana cigarette was readily identifiable in plain view by the officers when they entered defendant's room which provided officers with the requisite level of cause to conduct a more thorough search of the remainder of the residence. Id.

         Although the court of appeal did not directly address Article 895(A)(13)(a), the court found the "district court's concern that the defendant's probation officer played no role in the search of the residence … is of little importance as an appellate court's review on the legality of the search is based on an assessment of the collective knowledge possessed by all of the police involved in the investigation." Id. (internal citations removed). The court of appeal concluded that "defendant's status as a probationer did not operate a subterfuge to conduct a suspicionless search but rather allowed officers to conduct the search without a warrant and based on less than probable cause." Id. (internal citations removed).

         Judge Love dissented, finding the search was not reasonable. She agreed with the district court that the officers "'were simply there in order to effect a warrantless search on the behest or at the behest of outside agencies.'" Id. Judge Love noted "a residency verification was already conducted on the defendant by the sole probation officer assigned to her, and the search in this case was not a residency check, but was a search based on a tip." Id.

         On defendant's application, we granted supervisory review. State v. Brignac, 17-0448 (La. 5/12/17), 219 So.3d 1107.

         DISCUSSION

         As a general constitutional rule, warrantless searches are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, §5 of the Louisiana Constitution. State v. Surtain, 09-1835 (La. 3/16/10), 31 So.3d 1037, 1042. Ordinarily, when evidence is seized without a warrant, the burden is on the state to demonstrate that a search is justified by some exception to the warrant requirement. State v. Tatum, 466 So.2d 29, 30-31 (La. 1985). The capacity to claim the protection of the Fourth Amendment or La. Const. art. I, §5 depends upon whether the person who claims the protection has a legitimate expectation of privacy in the invaded place. See State v. Warren, 05-2248 (La. 2/22/07), 949 So.2d 1215, 1223. This court has long recognized that individuals on probation possess a diminished expectation of privacy. State v. Malone, 403 So.2d 1234, 1239 (La. 1981). This diminished expectation of privacy is reflected in La. C.Cr. P. art. 895(A)(13)(a), which provides:

A. When the court places a defendant on probation, it shall require the defendant to refrain from criminal conduct and to pay a supervision fee to defray the costs of probation supervision, and it may impose any specific conditions reasonably related to his rehabilitation, including any of the following. That the defendant shall:
*** (13)(a) Agree to searches of his person, his property, his place of residence, his vehicle, or his personal effects, or any or all of them, at any time, by the probation officer or the parole officer assigned to him, with or without a warrant of arrest or with or without a search warrant, when the probation officer or the parole officer has reasonable suspicion to believe that the person who is on probation is engaged in or has been engaged in criminal activity.

(Emphasis added). At issue is whether the search of Ms. Brignac's residence was conducted in compliance with this statutory provision, in particular whether the search was conducted by the probation officer "assigned to" Ms. Brignac.

         Interpretation of La. C.Cr. P. art. 895(A)(13)(a)

          Questions of law, such as the proper interpretation of a statute, are reviewed by this court under the de novo standard of review. Red Stick Studio Dev., L.L.C. v. State ex rel. Dep't of Econ. Dev., 10-0193 (La. 1/19/11), 56 So.3d 181, 187; Louisiana Mun. Ass'n v. State, 04-0227 (La. 1/19/05), 893 So.2d 809, 836. After our review, we "render judgment on the record, without deference to the legal conclusions of the tribunals below. This court is the ultimate arbiter of the meaning of the laws of this state." Lomont v. Bennett, 14-2483 (La. 6/30/15), 172 So.3d 620, 628.

         The parties offer different interpretations of Article 895(A)(13)(a). Defendant argues the language of the statute is clear and unambiguous, and the district court correctly gave the "assigned to" language its generally prevailing meaning. Defendant argues the court of appeal failed to adequately address, much less provide, a meaningful review of the district court's ruling. Defendant further argues the legislative history of the Article supports a finding that the legislature narrowly tailored the law to provide authority to conduct such a search only to the probation agent directly assigned to the probationer.

         By contrast, the state argues the district court misapplied Article 895(A)(13)(a). According to the state, this Article does not require that the probation officer who conducts a check or search be "the day-to-day supervisory agent" of the defendant. The state argues in this case the Office of Probation and Parole assigned two officers to check on defendant because the office had received information from law enforcement that she was involved in the sale of illegal narcotics. Thus, by the plain language of the statute, Officers Turner and Eagles were "assigned to" the defendant for a specific purpose by their office. The state argues nothing in the Article prevents the Office of Probation and Parole from assigning officers to conduct a residence check immediately prior to executing it, as was the case here. The state further argues that to interpret the Article otherwise would lead to absurd consequences because if the day-to-day supervisory officer were unavailable, no action could be taken against a probationer even if there was overwhelming evidence of a violation.

         The rules of statutory construction as set forth by this court are summarized as follows:

The function of statutory interpretation and the construction given to legislative acts rests with the judicial branch of the government. The rules of statutory construction are designed to ascertain and enforce the intent of the Legislature. Legislation is the solemn expression of legislative will and, thus, the interpretation of legislation is primarily the search for the legislative intent. We have often noted the paramount consideration in statutory interpretation is ascertainment of the legislative intent and the reason or reasons which prompted the Legislature to enact the law.
The starting point in the interpretation of any statute is the language of the statute itself. "When a law is clear and unambiguous and its application does not lead to absurd consequences, the law shall be applied as written and no further interpretation may be made in search of the intent of the legislature." La. Civ.Code. art. 9. However, "when the language of the law is susceptible of different meanings, it must be interpreted as having the meaning that best conforms to the purpose of the law." La. Civ.Code art. 10; Moreover, "when the words of a law are ambiguous, their meaning must be sought by examining the context in which they occur and the text of the law as a whole." La. Civ.Code art. 12.
It is also well established that the Legislature is presumed to enact each statute with deliberation and with full knowledge of all existing laws on the same subject. Thus, legislative language will be interpreted on the assumption the Legislature was aware of existing statutes, well established principles of statutory construction and with knowledge of the effect of their acts and a purpose in view. It is equally well settled under our rules of statutory construction, where it is possible, courts have a duty in the interpretation of a statute to adopt a construction which harmonizes and reconciles it with other provisions dealing with the same subject matter. La. Civ.Code art. 13.

M.J. Farms, Ltd. v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 07-2371 (La. 7/1/08), 998 So.2d 16, 26-27, amended on reh'g (La. 9/19/08) (internal citations removed). With these principles in mind, we first consider the language of Article 895(A)(13)(a).

         The word "assign" is commonly defined as "to appoint to a post or duty; to appoint as a duty or task." Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/ dictionary/assign (last visited September 18, 2017). The statutory language "assigned to him" implies a relationship and a duty of supervision by requiring a particular probation officer be appointed to a particular probationer. Although the state suggests a broad reading of this language to encompass searches by any probation officer, as long as the officer was assigned to some task involving a probationer, we find the legislature intended a narrower application. The legislature has explicitly provided that probationers agree to searches "by the probation officer … assigned to him." The specificity of the language contemplates a limited authority granted only to the particular probation officer who is generally and regularly assigned to a particular probationer. The legislative history of La. C.Cr. P. art. 895(A)(13)(a) supports this position.

         Article 895(A)(13)(a) did not exist prior to 2008. The Article originated as House Bill ("HB") 1136, introduced during the 2008 Regular Session of the Legislature. HB 1136 initially sought to amend and reenact La. R.S. 15:574.4(H)(4)(r), relative to conditions of parole, specifically to provide that as a condition of parole a person on parole agrees to searches of his person or property by law enforcement officers with or without an arrest or search warrant. At the time, subsection (r) provided that parolees agreed "to searches of … his place of residence … at any time, by the probation officer or the parole officer assigned to him, with or without a warrant of arrest or with or without a search warrant, when the probation officer or the parole officer has reasonable suspicion to believe that the person who is on parole is engaged in or has been engaged in criminal activity since his release on parole." (Emphasis added). HB 1136 defined "law enforcement officer" as including "commissioned police officers, sheriffs, deputy sheriffs, marshals, deputy marshals, correctional officers, constables, wildlife enforcement agents, state park wardens, and probation and parole officers." 2008 Original House Bill No. 1136.

         HB 1136 was subsequently amended by the House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice to provide the same relative to searches as a condition of probation through the enactment of Code of Criminal Procedure Article ...


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