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A man’s home is still his castle, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week, declaring a Georgia woman couldn’t give away her husband’s Fourth Amendment rights. In a 5-3 decision March 22 that backed up a previous ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court, the high court said that one household occupant’s permission for police to enter the home does not give law enforcement an exception to the warrant requirement if another occupant stands in the doorway and protests that entry. The decision has broad implications for police searches across the nation and prompted the first dissent written by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., who warned his colleagues it may have made it difficult for abused spouses to obtain police assistance. A disbarred Georgia attorney was at the center of the case. After police were called to his home when he and his wife quarreled, both accused each other of using illegal drugs. When police asked if they could search the home, Scott Fitz Randolph said no while his wife said yes. Police then searched the home and found what appeared to be cocaine.In the subsequent criminal case, Randolph moved to suppress the evidence. Writing for the majority, Justice David Souter said that “the ancient adage that a man’s home is his castle” dictated the Court’s ruling in Randolph’s favor. Justices Anthony Kennedy, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer joined the majority opinion. “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,” wrote Souter, “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.” Acknowledging that it was “drawing a fine line,” the majority said that, on the other hand, if the “potential objector” to the search stands “nearby” but is “not invited to take part in the threshold colloquy,” then the co-tenant’s permission to search provides police a way around the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. Roberts, joined by Justice Antonin Scalia, criticized that “fine line” as giving “protection on a random and happenstance basis, protecting, for example, a co-occupant who happens to be at the front door when the other occupant consents to a search, but not one napping or watching television in the next room.” Justice Clarence Thomas penned his own dissent.Souter called Roberts’ concerns about protecting spousal abuse victims a “red herring,” suggesting that police still could enter a home over an occupant’s objection in an emergency situation “so long as they have good reason to believe such a threat exists.” The case decided last week involved a domestic dispute, but the spouse invited police in to search for drugs, not to protect her from her husband. LAWYER PROTESTED SEARCH In July 2001, Americus, Ga., police responded to a call about a disturbance between Randolph and his estranged wife at the Americus house where Randolph lived. Randolph had worked as a criminal defense lawyer but was disbarred in 2001 for mishandling a bankruptcy case. With the couple accusing each other of drug use, police asked to search the home, gaining permission from the wife, but not Randolph. Police then found what appeared to be cocaine in Randolph’s bedroom. After he was indicted by Sumter County on cocaine possession, Randolph unsuccessfully sought to have the trial court suppress the evidence police took from the house. Randolph appealed to the Supreme Court of Georgia. In a 4-3 decision issued in 2004 and written by Justice Robert Benham, the state high court agreed with Randolph that the trial court should have granted the motion to suppress. “The Georgia Supreme Court got it exactly right, and that is, when you’re at home, you have rights in your house,” says Thomas Goldstein, the Supreme Court advocate who successfully argued the case for Randolph at the U.S. Supreme Court. Goldstein recently announced he will join Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld as a partner on May 1. “At the same time, if you’re away, your roommates or your spouse can let the police in, but when you’re home, it’s your castle.” The state of Georgia thought otherwise and appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that when people live together, they have a reduced expectation of privacy. Georgia, represented by Senior Assistant Attorney General Paula Smith at oral argument, received backing from the U.S. Department of Justice. Russ Willard, a spokesman for Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker, lambasted the decision. “[Last week's] decision throws yet another poorly defined roadblock in front of law enforcement trying to carry out their responsibilities and, as the dissent points out, hamstrings police in their ability to intervene in domestic violence situations where a spouse is sufficiently in fear to have summoned police in the first instance.” A �LAW AND ORDER’ VOTE The Supreme Court’s lineup showed Roberts “is a very solid law-and-order vote,” with Kennedy “in the position of swing vote,” says Goldstein. “I don’t think [Roberts'] position was a surprise,” says Pamela Karlan, a professor and associate dean at Stanford Law School who worked on Randolph’s Supreme Court brief, along with Atlanta attorney Donald Samuel of Garland, Samuel & Loeb. She adds that the appointment of Roberts likely did not change the outcome of the case, given that the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist was “not generally solicitous” of Fourth Amendment claims. The newest justice, Samuel Alito Jr., did not participate in the decision, since he did not take the bench until after the Court heard arguments in November. Jeffrey Lamken, a partner at Baker Botts in Washington who filed an amicus brief for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers supporting Randolph’s argument, cautioned against drawing too many inferences from how the justices split, calling Fourth Amendment cases “unpredictable animals.”
Alyson M. Palmer is a staff writer for the Fulton County Daily Report , the Atlanta-based ALM publication in which this article first appeared.

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