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The special needs doctrine is premised on the notion that "'special needs,' beyond the normal need for law enforcement, make the warrant and probable cause requirement impracticable."[1] If, on the one hand, the objective of the search is not for law enforcement purposes but for other reasons such as public safety[2] or ensuring the integrity of sensitive government positions,[3] then the doctrine will apply. If, however, the "primary purpose" or "immediate objective" was "to generate evidence for law enforcement purposes," then application of the special needs doctrine is not appropriate, and the government must adhere to general Fourth Amendment principles.[4] Again, the primary inquiry is the purpose of the search.


  1. Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives’ Ass’n, 489 U.S. 602, 620 (1989) (quoting Griffin v. Wisconsin, 483 U.S. 868, 873 (1987) (full-text)).
  2. Id.
  3. National Treasury Employees Union v. Von Raab, 489 U.S. 656, 670 (1989) (full-text).
  4. Ferguson v. City of Charleston, 532 U.S. 67, 83 (2001) (full-text).