Unless You Object to the Police Searching Your Home Now, You May Not Be Able to Complain Later

          Wayne R. Lafave, a noted criminal-law scholar, has said that "there is no dispute that [police searches based upon consent] affect tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people every year."  That being the case, it is not surprising that the United States Supreme Court has, over the years, addressed the lawfulness of particular searches by the police that were based upon consent.  Several of those opinions dealt in particular with searches of homes.

          The High Court has consistently said that our homes are entitled to special constitutional protection because they are the center of our private lives.  For example, in the case of Miller v. United States, the Court stated that "[f]rom earliest days, the common law drastically limited the authority of law officers to break the door of a house to effect an arrest.  Such action invades the precious interest of privacy summed up in the ancient adage that a man's house is his castle." 

          However, it is not necessary for the police to break down the door of someone's home if they have the consent of one of the residents to enter and search that person's home.  But are the police allowed to do that if one of the occupants of the home says they can while another occupant who is physically present says that the police cannot?  That was the question that the U.S. Supreme Court addressed in the case of Georgia v. Randolph.

         What occurred in the Randolph case is that Janet Randolph called the police after having a dispute with her husband, Scott Randolph, which ended up with Scott taking their son to a neighbor's house.  When the police arrived, Janet told them that Scott abused drugs and that there was evidence of that inside her home.   One of the officers then asked Scott for permission to search his house which he flatly refused.  Janet, however, did consent to such a search which ultimately resulted in Scott being indicted for possession of cocaine.

          The case eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court where Scott argued that the police violated the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution when they initially entered his home without a search warrant.  The Supreme Court agreed with Scott and ruled that the evidence obtained by the police had to be suppressed because "there is no common understanding that one co-tenant generally has a right or authority to prevail over the express wishes of another."

          Although the Supreme Court ruled that the police did not have a right to enter Scott's home without a warrant, it suggested that its ruling might have been different had the police needed to enter the home in order to physically protect Janet from Scott or to prevent Scott from destroying evidence of drug use.  The result would also have been different had Scott not been physically present to object; in that case, Janet's consent would have prevailed, and the resulting search would have been upheld by the Court.

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