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New ruling may affect police search procedures

Without a search warrant, the Fourth Amendment generally prohibits police from entering a home after its owner has denied them access. Notably, a 2003 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court clarified that an occupant of a home can exercise this right, and consequently prevent police from lawfully entering, even if another person in the home would consent to the police’s entry.

Yet in a recent case involving the warrantless search of a home, the U.S. Supreme Court recently determined that a girlfriend had the authority to invite police into a home, even after her boyfriend had objected and been arrested.

However, there are additional circumstances that may distinguish -- or perhaps limit -- the precedential effect of this decision. The police had received a tip that the alleged perpetrator of a recent robbery was in a nearby apartment. Yet when they arrived at the apartment door, the police claimed that they heard screaming from inside. They also claimed that the girlfriend who answered the door had a bloody shirt and a bump on her nose.

Fearing a domestic violence issue, the police arrested the boyfriend when he also came to the door. The robbery victim identified the boyfriend back at the local police station. Although the boyfriend did not consent to police searching his apartment, the girlfriend reportedly gave permission about an hour after her boyfriend’s arrest. Police then found weapons in the apartment.

As this post illustrates, the law governing searches and seizures is complex and constantly changing. For any facing criminal charges as a result of a police search or domestic violence dispute, an experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to find challenges to the police procedures.  

Source: ABA Journal, “Cops may search home when suspect objects but girlfriend later consents, Supreme Court says,” Debra Cassens Weiss, Feb. 25, 2014

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