Politics & Government

Warrantless searches of probationers now legal in N.C.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Beverly Perdue on Thursday signed into law a bill that allows probation officers to look at juvenile records of offenders and allow police to search probationers without securing warrants beforehand — changes to the state's probation system stemming from the death of University of North Carolina student body president Eve Carson.

Perdue called access to juvenile records and expansion of warrantless searches "critical first step." The bill passed the state Senate last night and the state House of Representatives earlier this week.

The access to juvenile records and expansion of warrantless searches were what Perdue called a "critical first step."

Various law enforcement agencies, from the state Highway Patrol and Raleigh Police Department, were at the signing cerremony to demonstrate an enhanced database that allows police officers to instantly check to see if a person is on probation. The $20,000 fix merged N.C. Department of Correction files with existing systems that law enforcement officers used to check on criminal backgrounds or to see if individuals had active warrants.

"It ridiculous in my mind that we weren't already doing it," Perdue said.

The push for the changes in the probation system came in part because of a series of articles in The News & Observer that detailed a probation system in crisis after Carson's March 2008 killing as well as the death of Abhijit Mahato, a Duke University graduate student shot to death in his Durham apartment in January 2008.

The News & Observer investigation also found that high numbers of vacancies forced probation officers to carry perilously high caseloads, resulting in botched oversight of many cases and 13,000 missing offenders. Since 2000, 580 probationers have killed while under state supervision.

Since taking office in January of this year, Perdue removed the probation division's top managers and called for reexamining how the department monitors offenders.

Laurence Lovette, a teen charged with first-degree murder in the Carson and Mahato cases, had a record of serious crimes in the juvenile system. Prosecutors in adult court failed to take that record into account when arranging a plea for one of his first offenses in the adult system.

She also urged House and Senate leaders to spend $24.2 million over the next two years to hire 175 probation officers and trainers and to give $2,200 to 1,048 existing probation officers.Read the full story at newsobserver.com

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