Rationalizing Administrative Searches

At the outset, this Note examines the major decisions concerning administrative searches. Specifically, it traces the development of a warrant requirement and of the corresponding lower standard of probable cause announced in the Camara and See decisions. Subsequent modifications of that seemingly absolute rule are then analyzed. To develop a framework for evaluating administrative search cases, Section II groups those principal Supreme Court cases, along with pertinent lower court opinions, into three tiers of fourth amendment protection: administrative searches that require a warrant based on a traditional criminal standard of probable cause; administrative searches that require a warrant based on administrative probable cause; and administrative searches that require no warrant at all. It critically assesses the theory courts have used to determine what degree of protection the subject of a search deserves.

The Note concludes by suggesting that courts implicitly have recognized a distinction between commercial property and private dwellings in deciding whether to apply the traditional probable cause test or the administrative probable cause test. It then recommends a recategorization of searches within the three-tiered framework consistent with such a distinction.