Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Police searches? Only if no dissenters in the house

SCOTUS issued a wild 5-3 decision today (Justice Alito chilled), ruling that police without a warrant cannot search a house when one resident agrees but another says no. At first blush, it would seem this decision would cause chaos in attempted police searches.

From the San Diego Union-Tribune:
The court's liberal members, joined by centrist Anthony M. Kennedy, said Wednesday that an officer responding to a domestic dispute call did not have the authority to enter and search the home of a small-town Georgia lawyer in 2001 even though the man's wife invited him in.

Janet Randolph called police to the home in Americus, Ga., and over her husband's objections, led the officer to evidence used to charge Scott Randolph with cocaine possession. That charge has been on hold while courts considered whether the search was constitutional.

[Chief Justice John] Roberts wrote his first dissent, a harsh complaint that police may now be helpless to protect domestic abuse victims.

Roberts said that the decision apparently forbids police from entering to assist with a domestic dispute if the abuser whose behavior prompted the request for police assistance objects.” Although Roberts has disagreed with other rulings since joining the court in September, it was the first time he wrote his own dissent.

[Justice David] Souter called Roberts' concerns about domestic violence a “red herring.”

"“This case has no bearing on the capacity of the police to protect domestic victims,"” Souter wrote. "“The question whether the police might lawfully enter over objection in order to provide any protection that might be reasonable is easily answered yes."”
Of course, this administration is handy at providing the widest possible definition of "reasonableness" - see "Wiretapping, Bush Administration and -"

But also see the key phrase "without a warrant" - we'll assume police with a warrant don't care who agrees to a search, since their consent is irrelevant.


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