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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Georgia v. Randolph: Both Spouses' Consent Needed for Warrantless Search

In Georgia v. Randolph No. 04-1067 (March 22, 2006), the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that it is unconstitutional for police, without a warrant, to search a home, if two occupants are present at the time and one consents but the other objects. The search may not go forward in the face of that objection, but the occupant must be present to have the objection count. "We have to admit we are drawing a fine line, [but] we think the formalism is justified" and that it will be easier to enforce in practice. Thus, the Court held, if the individual who may be at legal risk of prosecution and thus does not want the police to enter "is in fact at the door and objects," the other occupant's consent to search will not suffice. But, if the objector is nearby, and not at the door, an objection by him will not block the search. The Court stressed, though, that police may not take a potentialy objecting tenant away from the home in order to be able to make the search with the other occupant's consent. The Court left intact U.S. v. Matlok, in which one occupant was allowed to consent to police entry even though a co-occupant was being held in a squad car not far away, but was not asked for consent to search a jointly used room in the house. The Court also left intact Illinois v. Rodriguez, in which the Court allowed a search with consent of one occupant while the individual who would object to the police entry was asleep in the apartment. The case involved a warrantless police search in July 2001 of a home. It was the home of Scott Fitz Randolph. He and his wife had been having marital problems, and they were separated. He continued to live in the home. On the day of the incident, the wife had returned and was staying, at least temporarily, in the home. She called police about a domestic disturbance. When the officeres arrived, they found the wife to be upset, saying that her husband had taken the child and left. She also accused her husband of using cocaine, causing financial problems for the family. Randolph soon returned, without the child. The child had been taken to a neighbor's house. One officer asked Randolph about his wife's statements about cocaine use, and asked for permission to search. Randolph refused, but his wife consented. The officers found a straw apparently containing cocaine residue, in an upstairs bedroom. That piece of evidence was taken in, and formed the basis for a search warrant application. The police returned and made a search, finding various drug-related items. Randolph moved to suppress the evidence that had led to a charge of illegal drug possession.