Date Posted to Site: 03/23/2006
The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that police cannot always search a home when one resident says to come in but another objects, and the court's new leader complained that the ruling could hamper investigations of domestic abuse.
Justices, in a 5-3 decision, said that police did not have the authority to enter and search the home of a small town Georgia lawyer even though the man's wife invited them in.
The officers, who did not have a search warrant, found evidence of illegal drugs.
The Supreme Court has never ruled on whether the Constitution's ban on unreasonable searches covers a scenario when one home occupant wants to allow a search and another occupant does not.
The ruling by Justice David H. Souter stopped short of fully answering that question - saying only that in the Georgia case it was clear that Scott Fitz Randolph denied the officers entry.
In his first written dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts said that "the end result is a complete lack of practical guidance for the police in the field, let alone for the lower courts."
The case fractured a court that has shown surprising unanimity in the five months since Roberts became chief justice.
Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas filed separate dissents, and Justice John Paul Stevens and Stephen Breyer wrote their own opinions to explain their votes in favor of the man whose home was searched.
Georgia had asked the court to allow it to use evidence obtained in the 2001 search in Americus, Ga., that followed a police domestic dispute call.
Randolph and his wife, Janet, were having marital troubles. She led officers to evidence later used to charge her husband with cocaine possession. That charge was on hold while the courts considered whether the search was constitutional.
Georgia's Supreme Court ruled for Scott Randolph, and the high court agreed.
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