United States v. Thomas, No. 21-3169 (7th Cir. 2023)Annotate this Case
Thomas was wanted by Indiana officials and warrants had been issued for his arrest. Thomas obtained fake identification documents, including one issued by North Carolina under the name “Alredius”. Using that fictitious identity, Thomas leased an Atlanta condominium. Federal officials arrested him outside the building. Thomas’s landlord stated that she had rented the unit to
“Alredius Frieson.” With the landlord’s consent, officers searched the condo, finding drugs, drug paraphernalia, and cell phones. After obtaining warrants to search the phones, the officers discovered evidence that Thomas was trafficking methamphetamine. Charged under 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A), 846, Thomas unsuccessfully moved to suppress the evidence.
The Seventh Circuit reversed. A tenant lawfully may exclude others, even when the landlord consents to a search. Using an alias to sign a lease does not deprive a tenant of a legitimate expectation of privacy. A Georgia tenant who deceives or even defrauds a landlord is entitled to retain possession of the residence until the landlord has provided notice and obtained a judicial order. Thomas’s landlord could not summarily terminate his protections without violating Georgia law, nor could she consent to a warrantless search of his condo. A breach of a rental agreement does not automatically deprive the breaching party of a legitimate expectation of privacy.