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The case is State v.  Robert John Morse, Docket No.  75915-4. 
OLYMPIA, Wash.  — A unanimous state Supreme Court, buttressing the state’s strict
 limits on warrant less searches, said Thursday that a roommate or houseguest can give
 only limited permission for a search. 


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OLYMPIA, Wash.  — A unanimous state Supreme Court, buttressing the state’s strict limits on warrantless searches, said Thursday that a roommate or houseguest can give only limited permission for a search. 

The court threw out a methamphetamine possession conviction of an Everett man, Robert John Morse.  The opinion put police on notice that they must be careful in obtaining permission to do searches when they don’t have a warrant. 

Both federal and state constitutions generally view warrantless searches as unreasonable and allow only narrow exceptions. 

"Exceptions to the warrant requirement are jealously and carefully drawn," Justice Tom Chambers wrote for the court. 

The high court said a houseguest or roommate can authorize a search of the common areas, but not the bedroom or other spaces where the owner or leaseholder expects privacy. 

"Because a person’s expectation of privacy is necessarily reduced when authority to control a space is shared with others, such persons necessarily assume some risk that others with authority to do so will allow outsiders into shared areas," Chambers wrote. 

The case involved the search of Morse’s apartment in Everett in 2002.  Officers were actually looking for someone else, a woman wanted on felony warrants.  Morse’s houseguest answered the door and let police in to look for the woman. 

Officers went into the master bedroom and spotted Morse and some drugs and drug paraphernalia.  Morse consented to a search after he was arrested, and was convicted of drug possession.  He appealed, arguing that police failed to get his permission before entering and searching his bedroom.  He said police should have asked him, not his guest, for permission. 

The Court of Appeals rejected both arguments, but the high court overturned the lower courts and threw out the conviction. 

His attorney, Susan Wilk of the Washington Appellate Project in Seattle, said Morse has been free on appeal, and will not have to serve the 30-day sentence that had been imposed for a first-time offender. 

Morse, now in his early 30s, is staying out of trouble, she said.  Morse has Juvenile Parkinson’s Disease and uses a wheelchair, she said. 

The case is an important clarification of the law, she said in an interview. 

"It basically underscores the warrant requirement, and really places the burden on police to make reasonable inquiries about the person who answers the door," she said.  "Is it, as the court quaintly put it, the man or woman of the house or someone else?"

Justice Mary Fairhurst, in a separate opinion, agreed with the court’s decision to overturn the conviction, but said the temporary houseguest didn’t have the authority to let the police search the residence in the first place. 

      Pubdate: Fri, 02 Dec 2005
Source: Oregonian, The (Portland, OR)
Copyright: 2005 The Associated Press
Contact: letters@news.oregonian.com
Website: http://www.oregonlive.com/oregonian/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/324
Author: David Ammons, The Associated Press