Thursday, March 23, 2006

Supremes narrow police search power

Boston Globe

The Supreme Court narrowed police search powers yesterday, ruling that officers must have a warrant to look for evidence in a couple's home unless both of the partners present agree to let them in.

The ruling upholds a 2004 decision of the Georgia Supreme Court, but still makes a significant change in the law nationwide, because most other lower federal and state courts had said police could search with the consent of one of two adults living together.

In the majority opinion, Justice David H. Souter said the consent of one partner is inadequate because of "widely shared social expectations" that adults living together each have veto power over who can enter their shared living space. That makes a warrantless search based on only one partner's consent "unreasonable" and, therefore, unconstitutional.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing his first dissent since joining the court, said the ruling's "cost" would be "great."

Why doesn't it surprise me that he is the dissenter over more personal freedom and protection from unreasonable law enforcement for Americans?

Just by agreeing to live with someone else, a co-tenant surrenders a good deal of the privacy that the Constitution's Fourth Amendment was designed to protect, Roberts said. "The majority's rule apparently forbids police from entering to assist with a domestic dispute if the abuser whose behavior prompted the request for police assistance objects," he wrote.

But Souter called that argument a "red herring," saying that police would still have legal authority to enter homes where one partner was truly in danger.

"This case has no bearing on the capacity of the police to protect domestic victims," Souter wrote. "No question has been raised, or reasonably could be, about the authority of the police to enter a dwelling to protect a resident from domestic violence; so long as they have good reason to believe such a threat exists. . . ."

Souter said Roberts was guilty of declaring that ''the centuries of special protection for the privacy of the home are over."

Souter's opinion was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen G. Breyer.

The case arose out of a 2001 quarrel over child custody at the home of Janet and Scott Randolph in Americus, Ga. When officers arrived, she told them where they could find cocaine.

What this means to me is that that if the cops 'suspect' you of something and want to look in your sock drawer, and if they show up at your door on a day when you're not home and the ol' lady is pissed off at you, that she can't let them in without a warrant. Remember, 'mere suspicion' does not constitute probable cause. If they've got any semblance of the goods on you, they'll get a warrant and you're toast, but they won't get any more 'slop shots' because of this ruling. This is good.

If there's gunfire and screaming and yelling, or the fumes from your kitchen window are making birds fall out of the sky, they can come in your house just like they do now. This ruling is not designed to protect criminals, but rather to protect citizens from fishing expeditions.

I've had cops say to me, "I know you did it/are up to something."

To which I replied, "You may suspect it. You may even believe it, but you damn sure don't know it."

Wanting to lock me up on General Principles may have been a prudent desire on the part of the Po-leece at times, but they have to be able to prove there was enough reason to do it. Enough info to get a warrant is a good start. Cops are suspicious of us 'scumbags' (everybody but them) by nature and this ruling shortens the reins a little.

The Supremes have ruled in favor of more protection for our privacy under the Constitution, folks. That's what they're supposed to do. Good for them. For Now.

For more on the Fourth Amendment and Probable Cause, go here. It's good info to know.

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