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A man’s home is still his castle, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week, declaring that a Georgia woman couldn’t give away her husband’s Fourth Amendment rights. In a 5-3 decision that backed up a previous ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court, the U.S. 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 G. Roberts Jr., who warned that his colleagues may have made it difficult for abused spouses to obtain police assistance. A disbarred Americus, Ga., 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. A ‘fine line’ Writing for the majority, Justice David H. Souter said, “the ancient adage that a man’s home is his castle” dictated the court’s ruling in Randolph’s favor. Justices John Paul Stevens, Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer joined the majority. “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.” Georgia v. Randolph, No. 04-1067. Acknowledging that it was “drawing a fine line,” the majority said, on the other hand, if the “potential objector” to the search is “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.

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