Generally, a roommate can give police permission to search the areas of a home or apartment that he or she has control over. This means a person can give police authority to search the bedroom and any common space that he or she occupies. United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 171 (1974).
OHIO COURT THROWS OUT DRUG ARREST BECAUSE POLICE SEARCHED ROOM WITH ONLY ROOMMATE’S CONSENT
In State v. Hawks, 2019-Ohio-2350, police officers entered a home after being given permission to search the house by one of the roommates living in the house. During their search of the house, police found drugs in the Defendant’s bedroom and arrested him for possession of drugs.
Defendant filed a motion to have his arrest thrown out in court because the police lacked authority to search his bedroom despite being granted permission to search the house from one of the roommates.
The Court threw out Defendant’s arrest. The Court said that when the police entered the house, they should have known that the roommate’s consent to search the house did not give them authority to search Defendant’s bedroom. They needed to get a search warrant or get consent from Defendant if they wished to search his bedroom.
ROOMMATE SEARCH SCENARIOS
The question of searching a residence occupied by more than one person comes up often and courts have ruled that different situations give police officers the ability to search a house in some cases, but not in others.
- If one roommate is home, and gives police permission to search, then the police may search the house except for the private areas of the roommates who are not home;
- If two or more roommates are home and one objects to a search by police officers, the officers must look to obtain a warrant or gain consent by all roommates who are present;
- One member of a married couple can give consent to search the entire house, because courts have assumed there are no private areas off limits between spouses.
These types of questions arise in many criminal and traffic cases, and the exceptions to the Fourth Amendment are often used by officers to expand traffic stops to investigate for OVIs or DUIs.
Written by Anthony Iori, Esq., Riddell Law Associate