Georgia v. Randolph

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Georgia v. Randolph
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued November 8, 2005
Decided March 22, 2006
Full case name Georgia v. Scott Fitz Randolph
Docket nos. 04-1067
Citations 547 U.S. 103 (more)
126 S. Ct. 1515; 164 L. Ed. 2d 208; 2006 U.S. LEXIS 2498; 74 U.S.L.W. 4176
Prior history Defendant's motion to suppress evidence denied, State v. Randolph, Sumter Superior Court; reversed, 590 S.E.2d 834 (Ga. Ct. App. 2003); cert. granted, Supreme Court of Georgia, April 28, 2004; affirmed, 604 S.E.2d 835 (Ga. 2004); cert. granted, sub. nom. Georgia v. Randolph, 125 S. Ct. 1840 (2005)
Holding
In the circumstances here at issue, a physically present co-occupant's stated refusal to permit entry prevails, rendering the warrantless search unreasonable and invalid as to him. Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Souter, joined by Stevens, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer
Concurrence Stevens
Concurrence Breyer
Dissent Roberts, joined by Scalia
Dissent Scalia
Dissent Thomas
Alito took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. IV

Georgia v. Randolph, 547 U.S. 103 (2006), is a case in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that without a search warrant, police had no constitutional right to search a house where one resident consents to the search while another resident objects. The Court distinguished this case from the "co-occupant consent rule" established in United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164 (1974), which permitted one resident to consent in absence of the co-occupant. Georgia v. Randolph was a battle in the continuing contest between proponents of the "Originalist" and the "Living Constitution" philosophies on the Supreme Court, and in U.S. jurisprudence.[citation needed]

Facts[edit]

Respondent Scott Randolph and his wife, Janet Randolph, separated in late May 2001, when she left the marital residence in Americus, Georgia, and went to stay with her parents in Canada, taking their son and some belongings. In July, she returned to the Americus house with the child; the record does not register her motive for returning.

On the morning of July 6, she complained to the police that, after a domestic dispute, her husband had taken their son from the marital residence, and when the police reached the Randolph house, she told them that her husband was a cocaine user whose drug-use habit had caused the family financial troubles. She mentioned the marital problems, saying that she and their son had only recently returned after a several weeks' stay with her parents. Shortly after the policemen arrived, Scott Randolph returned, explaining to them that he had removed their son to a neighbor's house, worried that his wife might again take the boy out of the U.S.; Scott Randolph denied using cocaine, and countered that it was his wife, Janet, who used illegal drugs and abused alcohol.

One of the policemen, Sergeant Murray, went with Janet Randolph to reclaim the Randolph child from the neighbor; when they returned, she renewed her complaints about her husband's drug use, and volunteered that there were “items of drug evidence” in the house. Sergeant Murray asked Scott Randolph for permission to search the house; he refused. The sergeant then asked Janet Randolph's consent to search the Randolph house, which she readily gave, and then led him to an upstairs bedroom she identified as Scott's, where the sergeant noticed a section of a drinking straw with a powder residue he suspected was cocaine. He then left the house to get an evidence bag from his patrol car, and to call the district attorney's office, which instructed him to stop the search and apply for a search warrant. When Sergeant Murray returned to the house, Janet Randolph withdrew her consent to searching the house. The police took the drinking straw to the police station, along with the arrested Randolphs. After obtaining a search warrant, they returned to the Randolph house and seized further evidence of illegal drug use, on the basis of which Scott Randolph was indicted for possession of cocaine.

At court, Scott Randolph moved to suppress the evidence, as products of a warrantless search of his house, unauthorized by his wife's consent over his express refusal. The trial court denied the motion, ruling that Janet Randolph had common authority to consent to the search.

The court's decision[edit]

In a 5-3 opinion written by Justice David Souter, the Court held a co-resident could refuse consent to a police search, even if another resident consented, specifically:

The question here is whether such an evidentiary seizure is likewise lawful with the permission of one occupant when the other, who later seeks to suppress the evidence, is present at the scene and expressly refuses to consent. We hold that, in the circumstances here at issue, a physically present co-occupant's stated refusal to permit entry prevails, rendering the warrantless search unreasonable and invalid as to him.

The Court's decision distinguished its previous rulings in Illinois v. Rodriguez, 497 U.S. 177 (1990) and Matlock. In Rodriguez and Matlock the police obtained voluntary consent from a co-occupant at the residence, and found evidence implicating another resident who was not present when the police obtained consent. The Court said that the present case was different from the previous two in that the co-resident was not present to refuse consent to the search. In Rodriguez the co-occupant who later objected to the search was asleep in a bedroom within the residence; in Matlock the later-objecting co-occupant was located in a nearby police vehicle.

Justice Alito did not participate in the argument or decision of the case.

Stevens's concurrence[edit]

Justices Stevens and Breyer separately concurred with the Court majority opinion. Stevens's concurrence, from the "Living Constitution" school of jurisprudential philosophy, attacked the "originalists" view of the Fourth Amendment[citation needed], noting that the search would remain prohibited had the Court attempted to apply the law based upon the meaning intended by the founding fathers, noting that when the Fourth Amendment was written, the law of the time would have made the man the "master of his house":

In the 18th century . . . given the then-prevailing dramatic differences between the property rights of the husband and the far lesser rights of the wife, only the consent of the husband would matter. Whether "the master of the house" consented or objected, his decision would control. Thus if "original understanding" were to govern the outcome of this case, the search was clearly invalid because the husband did not consent. History, however, is not dispositive, because it is now clear, as a matter of constitutional law, that the male and the female are equal partners.

Breyer's concurrence[edit]

Justice Breyer's concurrence stressed that the majority opinion was rather specific, writing "the circumstances here include the following":

The search at issue was a search solely for evidence. The objecting party was present and made his objection known clearly and directly to the officers seeking to enter the house. The officers did not justify their search on grounds of possible evidence destruction. Cf. Thornton v. United States, 541 U. S. 615, 620–622 (2004); Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives' Assn., 489 U. S. 602, 623 (1989); Schmerber v. California, 384 U. S. 757, 770–771 (1966) . And, as far as the record reveals, the officers might easily have secured the premises and sought a warrant permitting them to enter. See Illinois v. McArthur, 531 U. S. 326 (2001) . Thus, the "totality of the circumstances" present here do not suffice to justify abandoning the Fourth Amendment's traditional hostility to police entry into a home without a warrant. I stress the totality of the circumstances, however, because, were the circumstances to change significantly, so should the result.

Roberts's dissent[edit]

Chief Justice Roberts feared the Court's ruling would limit the ability of police to combat domestic violence. Roberts also noted that the purpose of the Fourth Amendment was to protect individual privacy, but any person who shares a dwelling (or, as Roberts points out, a locker or a hard drive) with another person may anticipate that the other person sharing access to their belongings might turn them over to authorities. In short, to share a home with someone is to surrender privacy as to that person, who might then consent to an invasion of it. Roberts also asserted that the majority opinion was arbitrary, as previous case law had held an objecting resident who was being held in the police car, as opposed to in the house, could be ignored with respect to the search.

Scalia's and Thomas's dissents[edit]

Justices Scalia and Thomas also dissented separately

Scalia challenged Stevens's Originalist assertions, noting that the relationship between the Constitution and underlying law can remain the same, even as the underlying law changes:

Justice Stevens' attempted critique of originalism confuses the original import of the Fourth Amendment with the background sources of law to which the Amendment, on its original meaning, referred. From the date of its ratification until well into the 20th century, violation of the Amendment was tied to common-law trespass. ... On the basis of that connection, someone who had power to license the search of a house by a private party could authorize a police search. ... The issue of who could give such consent generally depended, in turn, on "historical and legal refinements" of property law. ... As property law developed, individuals who previously could not authorize a search might become able to do so, and those who once could grant such consent might no longer have that power. But changes in the law of property to which the Fourth Amendment referred would not alter the Amendment's meaning: that anyone capable of authorizing a search by a private party could consent to a warrantless search by the police.

There is nothing new or surprising in the proposition that our unchanging Constitution refers to other bodies of law that might themselves change. The Fifth Amendment provides, for instance, that "private property" shall not "be taken for public use, without just compensation"; but it does not purport to define property rights. ...

In any event, Justice Stevens' panegyric to the equal rights of women under modern property law does not support his conclusion that "[a]ssuming ... [sic] both spouses are competent, neither one is a master possessing the power to override the other's constitutional right to deny entry to their castle." Ante, at 2-3. The issue at hand is what to do when there is a conflict between two equals. Now that women have authority to consent, as Justice Stevens claims men alone once did, it does not follow that the spouse who refuses consent should be the winner of the contest. Justice Stevens could just as well have followed the same historical developments to the opposite conclusion: Now that "the male and the female are equal partners," ante, at 2, and women can consent to a search of their property, men can no longer obstruct their wishes. Men and women are no more "equal" in the majority's regime, where both sexes can veto each other's consent, than on the dissent's view, where both sexes cannot.

Finally, I must express grave doubt that today's decision deserves Justice Stevens' celebration as part of the forward march of women's equality. Given the usual patterns of domestic violence, how often can police be expected to encounter the situation in which a man urges them to enter the home while a woman simultaneously demands that they stay out? The most common practical effect of today's decision, insofar as the contest between the sexes is concerned, is to give men the power to stop women from allowing police into their homes—which is, curiously enough, precisely the power that Justice Stevens disapprovingly presumes men had in 1791.

Thomas argued that there had been no search as defined under the Fourth Amendment:

The Court has long recognized that "[i]t is an act of responsible citizenship for individuals to give whatever information they may have to aid in law enforcement." Miranda v. Arizona ... (1966). Consistent with this principle, the Court held in Coolidge v. New Hampshire ... (1971), that no Fourth Amendment search occurs where, as here, the spouse of an accused voluntarily leads the police to potential evidence of wrongdoing by the accused. ...

In the instant case, Mrs. Randolph told police responding to a domestic dispute that respondent was using a substantial quantity of cocaine. Upon police request, she consented to a general search of her residence to investigate her statements. However, as the Court's recitation of the facts demonstrates, ante, at 2, the record is clear that no such general search occurred. Instead, Sergeant Brett Murray asked Mrs. Randolph where the cocaine was located, and she showed him to an upstairs bedroom, where he saw the "piece of cut straw" on a dresser. ...

Sergeant Murray's entry into the Randolphs' home at the invitation of Mrs. Randolph to be shown evidence of respondent's cocaine use does not constitute a Fourth Amendment search. Under this Court's precedents, only the action of an agent of the government can constitute a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, because that Amendment "was intended as a restraint upon the activities of sovereign authority, and was not intended to be a limitation upon other than governmental agencies." Burdeau v. McDowell ... (1921) ... Applying this principle in Coolidge, the Court held that when a citizen leads police officers into a home shared with her spouse to show them evidence relevant to their investigation into a crime, that citizen is not acting as an agent of the police, and thus no Fourth Amendment search has occurred.

Further Developments[edit]

In 2014, in Fernandez v. California, the Supreme Court held that, when the resident who objects to the search of the dwelling is removed for objectively reasonable purposes (such as lawful arrest), the remaining resident may validly consent to search.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Binnall, James M. (2006). "He's on Parole… But You Still Can't Come in: A Parolee's Reaction to Georgia v. Randolph". Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law and Policy 13: 341. ISSN 1524-3974. 
  • Black, C. Dan (2006). "Georgia v. Randolph: A Murky Refinement of the Fourth Amendment Third-Party Consent Doctrine". Gonzaga Law Review 42: 321. ISSN 0046-6115. 
  • Wineholt, A. (2006). "Georgia v. Randolph: Checking Potential Defendants' Fourth Amendment Rights at the Door". Maryland Law Review 66: 475. ISSN 0025-4282. 

External links[edit]