Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Scotus Limits Some Searches

The Supreme Court has ruled 5-3 that warrantless searches where one resident agrees but another resident protests are unconstitutional:

The court's liberal members, joined by centrist Anthony M. Kennedy, said that an officer responding to a domestic dispute call did not have the authority to enter and search the home of a small-town Georgia lawyer in 2001 even though the man's wife invited him in.

Janet Randolph called police to the home in Americus, Ga., and _ over her husband's objections _ led the officer to evidence used to charge Scott Randolph with cocaine possession. That charge has been on hold while courts considered whether the search was constitutional.

Wieland of Transparent Grid has this take on it:

Souter writes that so long as the police do not spirit the suspect occupant away for the purpose of preventing him from denying consent, nothing would constitutionally stop them from not going out of their way to try to obtain his consent. Thus, if officers take a suspect of the house, put him in a police car and drive him away from the scene so that he canĂ‚’t be present to object, the search is invalid. If, however, officers can point to an objectively reasonable excuse for removing him from the scene, they can then seek consent from another occupant. It will be an area ripe for finagling.

Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog has an excellent exposition of the background of the case, and the precedents involved. In other words, legal scholarship is not necessary to see what he's talking about.

From the point of view of a non-legal-scholastic, I have to agree with Wieland's assessment that "finagling" will abound. Officers will have to learn exactly what is allowed, and try and steer situations away from disallowed searches. I wonder what would have happened if Janet Randolph had disappeared into the house and then reappeared with the straw to show police. Without their asking her to, of course.

In general, I say it's better that the default position of the Supreme Court should be that the Fourth Amendment rights of individuals against police searches should be construed as broadly as possible.



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