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March 23, 2006
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Excerpts from the Supreme Court ruling on police searches

The Associated Press

Excerpts from Wednesday's 5-3 Supreme Court ruling that police cannot search a home without a warrant when one resident consents but another turns them away.

Justice David H. Souter, for the majority:

"There is no common understanding that one co-tenant generally has a right or authority to prevail over the express wishes of another, whether the issue is the color of the curtains or invitations to outsiders.

"Since the 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, his disputed invitation, without more, gives a police officer no better claim to reasonableness in entering than the officer would have in the absence of any consent at all. ...

"We have, after all, lived our whole national history with an understanding of `the ancient adage that a man's home is his castle (to the point that the) poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown.'"

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Chief Justice John Roberts, in his first written dissent, joined by Justice Antonin Scalia:

"What does the majority imagine will happen, in a case in which the consenting co-occupant is concerned about the other's criminal activity, once the door clicks shut? The objecting co-occupant may pause briefly to decide whether to destroy any evidence of wrongdoing or to inflict retribution on the consenting co-occupant first, but there can be little doubt that he will attend to both in short order ... Perhaps the most serious consequence of the majority's rule is its operation in domestic abuse situations, a context in which the present question often arises. ...

"The majority reminds us, in high tones, that a man's home is his castle, but even under the majority's rule, it is not his castle if he happens to be absent, asleep in the keep or otherwise engaged when the constable arrives at the gate. Then it is his co-owner's castle. And, of course, it is not his castle if he wants to consent to entry, but his co-owner objects.

"Rather than constitutionalize such an arbitrary rule, we should acknowledge that a decision to share a private place, like a decision to share a secret or a confidential document, necessarily entails the risk that those with whom we share may in turn choose to share _ for their own protection or for other reasons _ with the police."

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Justice Stephen Breyer, in a concurrence with the majority:

"The Fourth Amendment does not insist upon bright-line rules. Rather, it recognizes that no single set of legal rules can capture the ever changing complexity of human life. It consequently uses the general terms `unreasonable searches and seizures.' ... 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."

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Justice John Paul Stevens, in a concurrence with the majority:

"This case illustrates why even the most dedicated adherent to an approach to constitutional interpretation that places primary reliance on the search for original understanding would recognize the relevance of changes in our society. ... In the 18th century, when the Fourth Amendment was adopted, the advice would have been quite different from what is appropriate today. Given 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."

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Justice Scalia, in a dissent:

"Justice Stevens' panegyric to the equal rights of women under modern property law does not support his conclusion ... the issue at hand is what to do when there is a conflict between two equals. Now that women have authority to consent, as Justice Stevens claims men alone once did, it does not follow that the spouse who refuses consent should be the winner of the contest.

"I must express grave doubt that today's decision deserves Justice Stevens' celebration as part of the forward march of women's equality. Given the usual patterns of domestic violence, how often can police be expected to encounter the situation in which a man urges them to enter the home while a woman simultaneously demands that they stay out? The most common practical effect of today's decision, insofar as the contest between the sexes is concerned, is to give men the power to stop women from allowing police into their homes _ which is, curiously enough, precisely the power that Justice Stevens disapprovingly presumes men had in 1791."

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Justice Clarence Thomas, in dissent:

"The court has long recognized that `it is an act of responsible citizenship for individuals to give whatever information they may have to aid in law enforcement.'"






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