Decided: April 28, 2016
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court.
The plaintiff, Stanley Jones, was under supervision for probation in Georgia for a crime he was convicted of in North Carolina when he was arrested for failing to pay the costs and fines associated with his sentence and avoiding supervision. The probation officers who sought the arrest concluded that Jones had committed those violations of his probation without contacting the Interstate Compact for Adult Offender Supervision (the Compact). In response, Jones brought suit against the probation officers for violation of his Fourth Amendment Rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The probation officers removed the case to federal court, where the district court granted summary judgment in their favor. The district court found that the probation officers were entitled to qualified immunity.
In reviewing the decision of the district court, the Fourth Circuit determined it was appropriate to employ the two-step inquiry for qualified immunity. In the process of the first step of the analysis, the court clarified that the level of suspicion required to arrest a probationer is reasonable suspicion. The court concluded that Jones successfully showed a violation of a constitutional right because his probation officers did not have reasonable suspicion of either violation of his probation. Specifically, there was no reasonable suspicion he failed to comply with a payment plan because no plan was ever provided for Jones in writing to create an enforceable condition of payment before the termination of his probation. Further, if the officers hadn’t tried to contact Jones for failure to make the payments, the charges for absconding would not have come about, and the officers failed to try to make contact with Jones through the proper channels, the Compact.
However, the Fourth Circuit determined under the second step that Jones’s rights under the Fourth Amendment in this case were not clearly established, since the level of suspicion required for arrest of a probationer had never been articulated. Therefore, the court found that although the probation officers violated Jones’s Fourth Amendment rights, the probation officers were still entitled qualified immunity. Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court to grant the probation officers’ motion for summary judgment.