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Parole Officers Must Knock and Announce Before Entering Parolee's Domicile

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court's grant of summary judgment, finding that parole officers have a duty to knock and announce themselves before entering a residence in which a parolee is renting a room, and holding that such a requirement was clearly established.

In February 2003, Michael Green owned a home in Warrenville, Illinois, where he lived with his girlfriend. Green rented a room to long time acquaintance and parolee Michael Belter, who neglected to have Green sign the required host site agreement which would have notified Green that his residence was "subject to search at any time by parole agents." Belter, in fact, signed the agreement himself. Consequently, Illinois parole officers believed Belter lived alone. Parole officers Marlo Butler and Jeffrey Bryant paid a routine visit to the Green residence but Belter refused to let them in because Green was not home. The officers left, promising to return.

Reinforced by agents Mark Salsberry, David Carroll and Amy Freund, Butler and Bryant returned later that day, intending to explain the host site agreement and conditions of parole to Belter and Green. While Bryant remained outside, the other agents entered the residence through the front door. Only agent Carroll testified that they knocked before entering. Everybody else, including the other agents, testified that Salsberry just opened the door and walked right in. Green testified that he did not know the identity of these apparent trespassers, and asked repeatedly before Carroll showed a badge. The agents looked around the home and handcuffed Belter. Green signed a home site agreement and Belter was released.

Green and his girlfriend, Cheryl Poulsen, filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against the parole agents in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. They claimed the agents violated their Fourth Amendment rights by entering their residence without a warrant and unreasonably breaking the knock and announce rule.

Though there was no evidence that the agents believed anyone was in danger, or that the house contained evidence of a crime, the district court granted summary judgment to the parole agents. The district court determined the knock and announce rule to be only one factor in determining reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment. In the totality of the circumstances, the court found that the state's public safety interests outweighed the plaintiff's privacy interests, and thus failure to knock and announce did not violate the Fourth Amendment. The court further held that the agents enjoyed qualified immunity because "it would not be clear to a reasonable agent" that their conduct was unlawful.

Normally, the factual dispute over whether the agents knocked would preclude summary judgment. The state argued, however, that the agents' failure was excusable. On appeal, the Seventh Circuit disagreed, finding neither exigent circumstances nor futility to excuse the agents' failure to comply with the Fourth Amendment. The appellate court rejected the district court's analysis, finding no reasonable justification for failing to knock and announce; therefore, the state's interests did not outweigh the individual privacy interests. The Seventh Circuit found the plaintiffs met the first requirement for defeating qualified immunity, in that a constitutional right was violated.

The court further found that the knock and announce rule was clearly established by 2003, meeting the second requirement that a reasonable public official would have known the behavior was unconstitutional at the time. Given the disputed issues of fact, the appeals court found a defense of qualified immunity was unavailable to the defendants.

Under the Seventh Circuit's ruling, parole agents must knock and announce themselves before entering a parolee's residence unless there is some sort of exigency or unless knocking and announcing would be futile, as would be the case if they were invited in or the residence was unoccupied. Furthermore, a parolee's agreement to submit to searches on demand does not remove the knock and announce requirement for such searches. See: Green v. Butler, 420 F.3d 689 (7th Cir. 2005), rehearing en banc denied.

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Related legal case

Green v. Butler