Officers went to the defendant’s home to investigate a domestic dispute. The defendant and his wife accused each other of abusing controlled substances. The defendant’s wife told the officers that criminal evidence could be found within the premises that would substantiate her claims. An officer asked the defendant for permission to search the house. He refused. The officer then asked the defendant’s wife for consent. She readily agreed. The ensuing search revealed evidence of the defendant’s criminal activity.
Issue Whether the officers may rely on consent obtained in the face of a co-tenant’s present refusal to grant that consent?
No. Consent obtained from one co-tenant refuted by another co-tenant who is present destroys the consent.
The Court held that a co-tenant “wishing to open the door to a third party has no recognized authority in law or social practice to prevail over a present and objecting co-tenant….” The officers, then, have “no better claim to reasonableness in entering than the officer would have in the absence of any consent at all.” The presence and objection of the defendant in this case preclude the government’s use of the cotenant’s consent to enter the premises. “[I]f a potential defendant with self-interest in objecting is in fact at the door and objects, the co-tenant’s permission does not suffice for a reasonable search, whereas the potential objector, nearby but not invited to take part in the threshold colloquy, loses out.”
The Court also stated that “this case has no bearing on the capacity of the police to protect domestic victims.” The police may make entry “to protect a resident from domestic violence.” The nature of the intrusion (to quell an emergency) validates a cotenant’s consent despite the defendant’s objection.
547 U.S. 103, 126 S. Ct. 1515 (2006)
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