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    Objection by One Resident Precludes Warrant  
        Less Entry Despite Another’s Permission

                    Georgia v’ Randolph 2005


             Return To OnlinePot’s Legal Section Main Page 

WASHINGTON — Strengthening Fourth Amendment protections against warrantless searches, the Supreme Court ruled that police can’t enter a house over a resident’s objection simply because a second occupant invites them in.

Chief Justice John Roberts led the three dissenters, reflecting his longstanding deference to police.

The opinions recalled debates that have marked the court since the 1950s, when, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, it began imposing rules to deter police misconduct.  Justice Samuel Alito sat out because the case was argued before his confirmation, but he has written elsewhere of his disagreement with Warren Court criminal-procedure cases.

The ruling by Justice David Souter was grounded in those doctrines, which have limited warrantless searches when a third party, such as a landlord or hotel clerk, has let police into an absent tenant’s quarters.  "We have, after all, lived our whole national history with an understanding of ‘the ancient adage that a man’s home is his castle,’" Justice Souter wrote, citing a 1958 opinion by his predecessor, Justice William Brennan.

Yesterday’s case originated with a 2001 marital dispute in Americus, Ga.  Janet Randolph told police that her husband, Scott, used cocaine and that the house held "drug evidence." Mr.  Randolph refused when an officer asked permission to search the premises.  The officer turned to Mrs.  Randolph, who led him to Mr.  Randolph’s bedroom, where the officer found a drinking straw with cocaine residue.

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled the search violated the Fourth Amendment, which bars "unreasonable searches and seizures" of "persons, houses, papers and effects." The state appealed.

Although the Constitution generally provides that police obtain a warrant before conducting a search, there are "reasonable" exceptions, such as to prevent imminent harm or if the party consents.

"The constant element…is the great significance given to widely shared social expectations," Justice Souter wrote.  "There is no common understanding that one co-tenant" can "prevail over the express wishes of another, whether the issue is the color of the curtains or invitations to outsiders." Few visitors would enter a house at "one occupant’s invitation…when a fellow tenant stood there saying, ‘stay out.’" That distinguished the case from a 1974 Supreme Court decision allowing one tenant to let police search while a co-tenant wasn’t home.  People who share housing "understand that any one of them may admit visitors, with the consequence that a guest obnoxious to one may nevertheless be admitted in his absence by another," he wrote.

Chief Justice Roberts’s dissent said "the court creates constitutional law by surmising what is typical when a social guest encounters an entirely atypical situation." Many "social conventions may shape expectations about how we act when another shares with us what is otherwise private," he wrote.  But "if an individual shares information, papers, or places with another, he assumes the risk that the other person will in turn share access to that information or those papers or places with the government."

Note: the ruling, 51 pages


       Pubdate: Thu, 23 Mar 2006
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Page: 2A
Copyright: 2006 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Contact: wsj.ltrs@wsj.com
Website: http://www.wsj.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/487
Author: Jess Bravin
Note: the ruling, 51 pages
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/topics/Fourth+Amendment
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/topics/warrantless+searches
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/find?247 (Crime Policy – United States)
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/raids.htm (Drug Raids)