Supreme Court limits police in third-party
consent searches cases


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The US Supreme Court on Wednesday held that a police search of a couple's home, where one resident gave permission for the search but the other resident "unequivocally refused to give consent", is unconstitutional as to the resident who refused consent. The Court considered an appeal [JURIST report] in Georgia v. Randolph [Duke Law case backgrounder], 04-1067 , a case which involved an estranged Georgia couple where the wife had returned to the home to collect her belongings. The wife granted permission for the police search over her husband's objections, which led police to evidence in the house that her husband used cocaine. In a 5-3 decision, the Court upheld a Georgia Supreme Court decision [PDF text], ruling that "a physically present cooccupant's stated refusal to permit entry renders warrantless entry and search unreasonable and invalid as to him."

The Court stopped short of providing a full answer to the question of whether police can search a home when one resident consents and the other resident is present and does not consent, noting that in the case's particular circumstances it was clear that Randolph denied the police entry into his home. In his first dissent since being appointed to the high court, Chief Justice John Roberts criticized the result as "a complete lack of practical guidance for the police in the field, let alone for the lower courts." Read the Court's opinion [PDF] per Justice Souter, with a concurrence [PDF text] from Justice Stevens, a second concurrence [PDF text] from Justice Breyer, a dissent [PDF text] from Chief Justice Roberts, who was joined by Justice Scalia, a separate dissent [PDF text] from Scalia, and a dissent [PDF text] from Justice Thomas.

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