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03-23-06, 10:07 PM #1Indy Guest
U.S. Supreme Court limits cops' right to search
Warrant needed to enter house if 1 resident objects
By Gina Holland
WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court's unity under new Chief Justice John Roberts was shattered Wednesday by a dispute over an old adage: A man's home is his castle.
The justices ruled 5-3 that police without a warrant cannot search a house when one resident agrees but another says no. Roberts wrote his first dissent, a harsh complaint that police may now be helpless to protect domestic abuse victims.
The decision ended a trend of one-sided rulings by the court. About two-thirds of the 30 decisions under Roberts' leadership have been unanimous, a high number on a court that has been polarized along ideological lines in the past.
The court's liberal members, joined by centrist Anthony M. Kennedy, said Wednesday that an officer responding to a domestic dispute call did not have the authority to enter and search the home of a small-town Georgia lawyer in 2001 even though the man's wife invited him in.
Janet Randolph called police to the home in Americus, Ga., to report her husband was a cocaine user. When police arrived at their house, she invited them inside and said they would find evidence of his drug use in their bedroom.
Scott Randolph, a lawyer, refused to let the officers in. They entered anyway and upstairs found a straw with a white powder that proved to be cocaine.
The case of Georgia v. Randolph asked whether this entry without a warrant was legal.
The Fourth Amendment forbids "unreasonable searches" by the government, and it generally requires police to have a search warrant before entering a home. But people may freely consent to a search without a warrant.
The state of Georgia had the backing of the Bush administration and 21 other states that argued that cooperation with law officers should be encouraged.
The case turned on the Constitution's ban on unreasonable searches -- with a twist. Justices looked at the rights of people who share their homes, a common situation in America, where many households include extended families.
"The law acknowledges that although we might not expect our friends and family to admit the government into common areas, sharing space entails risk," Roberts wrote in a dissent that hinted that he lost votes in the 41/2 months it took the justices to resolve the case.
Justice David H. Souter, the court's only unmarried member, saw it differently.
"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," Souter wrote for the majority.
Scalia versus Stevens
In all, the eight members who participated in the case wrote six different opinions, swapping barbs. Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and liberal Justice John Paul Stevens disputed whether the ruling helped women.
Stevens said: Neither husband nor wife "is a master possessing the power to override the other's constitutional right to deny entry to their castle."
Scalia said: "I must express grave doubt that today's decision deserves Justice Stevens' celebration as part of the forward march of women's equality."
The court recently has been harmonious on emotional issues that included abortion limits, religious freedom and a protest of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays.
"I'm thunderstruck this case would have generated this kind of response," said Kermit Hall, a historian and president of the State University of New York-Albany. "My sense is we are going to see more difference than we're going to see agreement."
Roberts said the decision "apparently forbids police from entering to assist with a domestic dispute if the abuser whose behavior prompted the request for police assistance objects." Although Roberts has disagreed with other rulings since joining the court in September, it was the first time he wrote his own dissent.
Souter called Roberts' concerns about domestic violence a "red herring."
"This case has no bearing on the capacity of the police to protect domestic victims," Souter wrote. "The question whether the police might lawfully enter over objection in order to provide any protection that might be reasonable is easily answered yes."
Justice Samuel Alito did not participate in the case because he was not on the court when it was argued.
03-23-06, 10:14 PM #2Indy Guest
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