August 24, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Anonymous Tip Was Reasonable Basis for Warrantless Search of Probationer’s House

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Leatherwood v. Welker on Tuesday, July 8, 2014.

Leatherwood was serving probation when his former wife called his probation officer, Denise Welker, to inform her that Leatherwood had raped his current girlfriend, who had filed a restraining order against Leatherwood. The former wife also indicated that Leatherwood might have weapons in his possession, specifically in his truck, in a safe, and on a shelf in his garage. Welker also received an anonymous email tip that Leatherwood had sent emails of a sexual nature to his girlfriend and that he possessed alcohol and sexual materials and devices. Possession of firearms and sexually explicit material was prohibited under the terms of his probation.

Welker met with other corrections officers and obtained permission to conduct a warrantless search of Leatherwood’s home. Firearms were found in the search. Leatherwood initiated litigation, seeking declaratory and monetary relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Defendants moved for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds, which was denied. Defendants appealed the denial of summary judgment.

The Tenth Circuit reversed, noting that defendants had ample reason for conducting the warrantless search, given the phone call from the former wife and the anonymous email. The Tenth Circuit has allowed  searches of probationers based on anonymous or unverified tips many times previously and found that the search was reasonable and the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity.

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