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Georgia v. Randolph, 547 U.S. 103 (2006), is a case in which the Supreme Court of the United Statesmarker held that police without a search warrant could not constitutionally search a house in which one resident consents to the search while another resident objects. The court distinguished the case from the "co-occupant consent rule" announced in United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164 (1974), which permitted one resident to consent in the co-occupant's absence. The case proved yet another battle in the ongoing contest between proponents of the "Originalist" and the "Living Constitution" philosophies on the Court (and within American jurisprudence).

Background of the case

Respondent Scott Randolph and his wife, Janet, separated in late May 2001, when she left the marital residence in Americus, Georgiamarker, and went to stay with his parents in Canadamarker, taking their son and some belongings. In July, she returned to the Americus house with the child, though the record does not reveal whether her object was reconciliation or retrieval of remaining possessions.

On the morning of July 6, she complained to the police that after a domestic dispute her husband took their son away, and when officers reached the house she told them that her husband was a cocaine user whose habit had caused financial troubles. She mentioned the marital problems and said that she and their son had only recently returned after a stay of several weeks with her parents. Shortly after the police arrived, Scott Randolph returned and explained that he had removed the child to a neighbor's house out of concern that his wife might take the boy out of the country again; he denied cocaine use, and countered that it was in fact his wife who abused drugs and alcohol.

One of the officers, Sergeant Murray, went with Janet Randolph to reclaim the child, and when they returned she not only renewed her complaints about her husband's drug use, but also volunteered that there were “items of drug evidence” in the house. Sergeant Murray asked Scott Randolph for permission to search the house, which he unequivocally refused.

The sergeant turned to Janet Randolph for consent to search, which she readily gave. She led the officer upstairs to a bedroom that she identified as Scott's, where the sergeant noticed a section of a drinking straw with a powdery residue he suspected was cocaine. He then left the house to get an evidence bag from his car and to call the district attorney's office, which instructed him to stop the search and apply for a warrant. When Sergeant Murray returned to the house, Janet Randolph withdrew her consent. The police took the straw to the police station, along with the Randolphs. After getting a search warrant, they returned to the house and seized further evidence of drug use, on the basis of which Scott Randolph was indicted for possession of cocaine.

He moved to suppress the evidence, as products of a warrantless search of his house unauthorized by his wife's consent over his express refusal. The trial court denied the motion, ruling that Janet Randolph had common authority to consent to the search.

The Court's decision

In a 5-3 opinion authored by Justice David Souter, the Court held a co-resident could refuse a consent search even if another resident consented. Specifically, Souter wrote:
The question here is whether such an evidentiary seizure is likewise lawful with the permission of one occupant when the other, who later seeks to suppress the evidence, is present at the scene and expressly refuses to consent.
We hold that, in the circumstances here at issue, a physically present co-occupant's stated refusal to permit entry prevails, rendering the warrantless search unreasonable and invalid as to him.


The Court's decision distinguished its previous rulings in Illinois v. Rodriguez, 497 U.S. 177 (1990) and Matlock. In Rodriguez and Matlock the police obtained voluntary consent from a co-occupant at the residence and found evidence implicating another resident who was not present at the time the police obtained consent. The court reasoned that the present case was different from the previous two in that the co-resident was not present to refuse consent to the search. In Rodriguez the co-occupant who later objected to the search was asleep in a bedroom within the residence. In Matlock the later objecting co-occupant was located in a nearby police vehicle.

Justice Alito did not participate in the argument or decision of the case.

Stevens' concurrence

Justices Stevens and Breyer concurred separately to the majority opinion. Stevens' concurrence, coming from the "Living Constitution" school of jurisprudential thought attacked the "originalists" view of the Fourth Amendment. Stevens wryly noted that the search would still have been prohibited if the Court attempted to apply the law based on the meaning intended by the founding fathers, pointing out that when the Fourth Amendment was written, the law of the time would have made the man the "master of his house":

In the 18th century ... [g]iven the then-prevailing dramatic differences between the property rights of the husband and the far lesser rights of the wife, only the consent of the husband would matter. Whether "the master of the house" consented or objected, his decision would control. Thus if "original understanding" were to govern the outcome of this case, the search was clearly invalid because the husband did not consent. History, however, is not dispositive because it is now clear, as a matter of constitutional law, that the male and the female are equal partners.


In Justice Scalia's dissent, he criticized Stevens' use of "originalist" logic, in part, to justify the majority's opinion.

Breyer's concurrence

Justice Breyer's concurrence stressed that the majority opinion was rather specific, writing "the circumstances here include the following":
The search at issue was a search solely for evidence.
The objecting party was present and made his objection known clearly and directly to the officers seeking to enter the house.
The officers did not justify their search on grounds of possible evidence destruction.
Cf.
Thornton v.
United States, 541 U.
S.
615, 620–622 (2004); Skinner v.
Railway Labor Executives’ Assn., 489 U.
S.
602, 623 (1989); Schmerber v.
California, 384 U.
S.
757, 770–771 (1966) .
And, as far as the record reveals, the officers might easily have secured the premises and sought a warrant permitting them to enter.
See Illinois v.
McArthur, 531 U.
S.
326 (2001) .
Thus, the "totality of the circumstances" present here do not suffice to justify abandoning the Fourth Amendment’s traditional hostility to police entry into a home without a warrant.
I stress the totality of the circumstances, however, because, were the circumstances to change significantly, so should the result.


Roberts' dissent

Chief Justice Roberts, in his first written dissent after being confirmed to the Court, wrote that he feared the Court's ruling would limit the ability of police to combat domestic violence. Roberts also noted that the purpose of the Fourth Amendment was to protect individual privacy, but any person who shares a dwelling (or, as Roberts points out, a locker or a hard drive) with another person may anticipate that the other person sharing access to their belongings might turn them over to authorities. In short, to share a home with someone is to surrender privacy as to that person, who might then consent to an invasion of it. Roberts also asserted that the majority opinion was arbitrary, as previous case law had held an objecting resident who was being held in the police car, as opposed to in the house, could be ignored with respect to the search.

Scalia's and Thomas' dissent

Justices Scalia and Thomas also dissented separately. Scalia, in his dissent, challenged Stevens' assertions about originalism, noting that the relationship between the Constitution and underlying law can remain the same, even as the underlying law changes.

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