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Federal Circuit: Reasonable Suspicion Required to Search Prison Employee's Car

On May 12, 2003, the court of appeals for the Federal Circuit held that reasonable suspicion was required to search a federal prison employee's car.

Derrick A. Wiley was employed as a teacher at a federal Bureau of Prisons facility in Miami, Florida, when he was approached by a special investigating agent who asked to search his car. Instead, Wiley drove the car off the prison's parking lot. He returned a short time later and allowed the search. No contraband was discovered. Nonetheless, Wiley was terminated for refusing the initial search request.

What had triggered the initial search was a letter with a fictitiously-named sender accusing Wiley of keeping a 9 mm pistol in his car while it was on prison grounds and stating that several unnamed guards had seen it. The warden also knew that a similar charge against Wiley two years earlier had failed to turn up a pistol.

Wiley appealed his termination to the merit systems protection board, alleging the search was unconstitutional because no probable cause existed to support it. An administrative law judge sustained the termination and Wiley petitioned for review of the decision to the full board.

The board granted review but sustained the termination. It held that the search did not violate the Fourth Amendment because prison officials had reasonable suspicion to search the car and reasonable suspicion, not probable cause, was all that was required to search a prison employee's car located on prison grounds. Wiley appealed to the D.C. Circuit.

The court of appeals agreed that reasonable suspicion was all that was required, but held that an anonymous letter containing accusations of misconduct without any additional indication of its reliability could not provide reasonable suspicion. Therefore, it reversed the decision of the board, sustaining Wiley's removal for failure to submit to the search because it concluded that the search was an unconstitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment.

See: Wiley v. Department of Justice, D.C. Cir., No. 02-3044

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Related legal case

Wiley v. Department of Justice