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Eight Circuit: Random Search of Guards' Cars May Violate Fourth Amendment

On July 9, 2010, the Eighth Circuit court of appeals held that randomly searching guards' cars parked in a prison parking lot to which prisoners have no unsupervised access may violate the Fourth Amendment.

Brian True, a former guard at the Lincoln Correction Center of the Nebraska Department of Correctional. Services (DCS), refused to allow his car to be randomly searched. The car was parked in the prison's parking lot which is outside the confines of the prison. The parking lot had a sign at its entrance stating that cars parked in the lot were subject to random searches. True had also received a copy of the DCS employee handbook stating that vehicles parked on state property were subject to search, and that failure to allow the search would result in disciplinary action.

At a disciplinary hearing for refusing to allow the search, True said he would not allow random searches in the future. His employment was terminated.

True filed a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in federal district court against Nebraska and DCS employees alleging that his First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights had been violated. The district court granted defendants summary judgment. True appealed.

The Eighth Circuit held that the Fourth Amendment applied even though no search had taken place because there was an injury in fact, a causal connection between the injury and complained of conduct, and the injury was redressable. Noting that the government cannot require an employee to consent to search as a condition of employment, the Eighth Circuit held that True had not consented to have his vehicle searched. The Eighth Circuit noted that the search of a guard's vehicle parked in a parking lot to which prisoners had unsupervised access was reasonable. However, in this case, there were disputed issues of material fact as to whether prisoners had unsupervised access to True's vehicle.

Therefore, summary judgment was not appropriate on the Fourth Amendment issue. The Eighth Circuit rejected True's other claims. The judgment was reversed in part and affirmed in part and the case returned to the trial court for further proceedings. See: True v. Nebraska, 612 F.3d 676 (8th Cir. 2010).

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Related legal case

True v. Nebraska