Consent Searches

Consent Searches.—Fourth Amendment rights, like other constitutional rights, may be waived, and one may consent to search of his person or premises by officers who have not complied with the Amendment.268 The Court, however, has insisted that the burden is on the prosecution to prove the voluntariness of the consent269 and awareness of the right of choice.270 Reviewing courts must determine on the basis of the totality of the circumstances whether consent has been freely given or has been coerced. Actual knowledge of the right to refuse consent is not essential to the issue of voluntariness, and therefore police are not required to acquaint a person with his rights, as through a Fourth Amendment version of Miranda warnings.271 But consent will not be regarded as voluntary when the officer asserts his official status and claim of right and the occupant yields to these factors rather than makes his own determination to admit officers.272 When consent is obtained through the deception of an undercover officer or an informer gaining admission without, of course, advising a suspect who he is, the Court has held that the suspect has simply assumed the risk that an invitee would betray him, and evidence obtained through the deception is admissible.273

Additional issues arise in determining the validity of consent to search when consent is given not by the suspect but by a third party. In the earlier cases, third party consent was deemed sufficient if that party "possessed common authority over or other sufficient relationship to the premises or effects sought to be inspected."274 Now, however, actual common authority over the premises is no longer required; it is enough if the searching officer had a reasonable but mistaken belief that the third party had common authority and could consent to the search.275 If, however, one occupant consents to a search of shared premises, but a physically present co-occupant expressly objects to the search, the search is unreasonable.16

268 Amos v. United States, 255 U.S. 313 (1921); Zap v. United States, 328 U.S. 624 (1946); Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218 (1973).

269 Bumper v. North Carolina, 391 U.S. 543 (1968).

270 Johnson v. United States, 333 U.S. 10, 13 (1948).

271 Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 231-33 (1973). Ohio v. Robinette, 519 U.S. 33 (1996) (officer need not always inform a detained motorist that he is free to go before consent to search auto may be deemed voluntary). United States v. Drayton, 536 U.S. 194, 207 (2002) (totality of circumstances indicated that bus passenger consented to search even though officer did not explicitly state that passenger was free to refuse permission).

272 Amos v. United States, 255 U.S. 313 (1921); Johnson v. United States, 333 U.S. 10 (1948); Bumper v. North Carolina, 391 U.S. 543 (1968).

273 On Lee v. United States, 343 U.S. 747 (1952); Lopez v. United States, 373 U.S. 427 (1963); Hoffa v. United States, 385 U.S. 293 (1966); Lewis v. United States, 385 U.S. 206 (1966); United States v. White, 401 U.S. 745 (1971). Cf. Osborn v. United States, 385 U.S. 323 (1966) (prior judicial approval obtained before wired informer sent into defendant's presence). Problems may be encountered by police, however, in special circumstances. See Massiah v. United States, 377 U.S. 201 (1964); United States v. Henry, 447 U.S. 264 (1980); United States v. Karo, 468 U.S. 705 (1984) (installation of beeper with consent of informer who sold container with beeper to suspect is permissible with prior judicial approval, but use of beeper to monitor private residence is not).

274 United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 171 (1974) (valid consent by woman with whom defendant was living and sharing the bedroom searched). See also Chapman v. United States, 365 U.S. 610 (1961) (landlord's consent insufficient); Stoner v. California, 376 U.S. 483 (1964) (hotel desk clerk lacked authority to consent to search of guest's room); Frazier v. Culp, 394 U.S. 731 (1969) (joint user of duffel bag had authority to consent to search).

275 Illinois v. Rodriguez, 497 U.S. 177 (1990). See also Florida v. Jimeno, 500 U.S. 248, 251 (1991) (it was "objectively reasonable" for officer to believe that suspect's consent to search his car for narcotics included consent to search containers found within the car).

16 Georgia v. Randolph, 547 U.S. 103 (2006) (warrantless search of a defendant’s residence based on his estranged wife’s consent was unreasonable and invalid as applied to a physically present defendant who expressly refused to permit entry). The Court in Randolph admitted that it was “drawing a fine line,” id. at 121, between situations where the defendant is present and expressly refuses consent, and that of United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 171 (1974), and Illinois v. Rodriguez, 497 U.S. 177 (1990), where the defendants were nearby but were not asked for their permission. In a dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Roberts observed that the majority’s ruling “provides protection on a random and happenstance basis, protecting, for example, a co-occupant who happens to be at the front door when the other occupant consents to a search, but not one napping or watching television in the next room.” Id. at 127.

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