Thursday, March 03, 2011

Iowa has a state constitution

The Iowa Supreme Court became the first state supreme court to reject the wholesale stripping of privacy rights for parollees, as described by the SCOTUS in Samson v. California, 547 U.S. 843 (2006). Relying on its state constitution, the Iowa Supreme Court, in State v. Ochoa, 08-0412 (Iowa Dec. 17, 2010), held that parollees retain a privacy interest in their private homes.

The case presents a nice primer on state constitutional law jurisprudence. The Iowa Supreme Court observed that it had historically treated with a "lockstep" approach, where "a state court adopts prevailing federal authority in its interpretation of parallel state constitutinal provisions, even though theoretically recognizing their independent nature." This is almost univerally the approach used by the Kansas Supreme Court with regard to constitutional criminal procedure questions.

The Iowa Supreme Court held that it would no longer use this approach:
In order to resolve any inconsistency in our prior cases, we now hold that, while United States Supreme Court cases are entitled to respectful consideration, we will engage in independent analysis of the content of our state search and seizure provisions. A Fourth Amendment opinion of the United States Supreme Court, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, or any other federal court is no more binding upon our interpretation of article I, section 8 of the Iowa Constitution than is a case decided by another state supreme court under a search and seizure provision of that state‘s constitution. The degree to which we follow United States Supreme Court precedent, or any other precedent, depends solely upon its ability to persuade us with the reasoning of the decision.

This approach requires the state supreme court justices to independently determine, for example, whether a given type of search is "reasonable" under the state constitution. I think this is the right approach for any judicial officer that has taken an oath to uphold the constitution of a particular state.

Using this approach, the Iowa Suprme Court held that parollees continue to have privacy rights in their private homes:
Even assuming a role for balancing, we believe that the Samson approach undervalues the importance of a parolee‘s interest in the home. The home plays a central role in a person‘s life, providing sanctuary, comfort, seclusion, security, and identity. The sanctity of the home was a prominent part of the legal landscape in the Wilkes and Paxton cases and has been repeatedly emphasized by the United States Supreme Court. Invasions of the home by government officials cannot be regarded as constitutionally insignificant. As in the majority opinion in Katz, we find that the protection afforded by article I, section 8 extends beyond privacy and includes at least some notion of place and security.

. . . .

We also think Samson is fundamentally flawed by regarding a parolee as more akin to a prisoner than a probationer. It may be conceded that a prison "shares none of the attributes of privacy of a home, an automobile, an office, or a hotel room." Yet, a parolees home is nothing like a prison cell. Instead, it is indistinguishable from the home of any other citizen. As noted in Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 82 (1972), the condition of a parolee is "very different from that of confinement in a prison."

. . . .

In sum, we reject the holding of Samson under the Iowa Constitution. We conclude that a parolee may not be subjected to broad, warrantless searches by a general law enforcement officer without any particularized suspicion or limitations to the scope of the search. The power asserted by the State in this case too closely resembles authority pursuant to a general warrant, provides no meaningful mechanism to control arbitrary searches, avoids the warrant preference rule that this court has traditionally recognized, utilizes a balancing test that improperly weighs the interests involved, and does not adequately recognize the security and sanctity interests of parolees in their home.

A lot of background in this case, both on state constitutional law and the law regarding parollees and privacy.

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