ENTRY ALLOWED BY SOMEONE WITH APPARENT AUTHORITY JUSTIFIES WARRANTLESS SEARCH

In Commonwealth v. Santos, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC)  affirmed the defendant’s convictions of rape of a child with force and related offenses, and rejected  the defendant’s argument that his motion to suppress evidence obtained from a warrantless search of his apartment should have been allowed. The defendant and the complainant’s grandmother lived in the downstairs apartment of a two-family house; the complainant and his mother (the grandmother’s daughter) lived in the upstairs apartment. The alleged rape occurred on the couch in the downstairs apartment. Upon hearing the complainant’s accusatation a short time later, the complainant’s mother called the police, who quickly dispatched officers to the scene. The mother greeted them at the front porch and opened the main door to the building.  This door led to an entryway containing two interior doors.  The mother led the officers through the door to the first-floor apartment, the home of the grandmother and the defendant, where the complainant was waiting and where the officers eventually seized the item at issue in the suppression motion: a cushion from the couch which, when tested later, was found to be stained with the defendant’s semen. In the suppression motion, the defendant argued that the police entry into his apartment was illegal on the ground that “the officers did not conduct a diligent inquiry as to whether the mother had authority to grant consent to enter” that apartment. Specifically, the defendant contended that “the police were required to ask the person leading them into the home if she lived there.” The SJC disagreed, opining that a defendant’s rights under the Fourth Amendment and art. 14 of the Declaration of Rights are “not violated ‘if a warrantless search of a home occurs after a police officer obtains the voluntary consent of a person he reasonably believes, after diligent inquiry, has common authority over the home, but it turns out that the person lacked common authority.’ The Court explained that “diligent inquiry consists of two steps: first, ‘the police officer must base his conclusion of actual authority on facts, not assumptions or impressions,’”, and second, the police must conduct further inquiry if, in the circumstances, a reasonable person might conceivably doubt the veracity of the consenting person’s assertion that she lives on the premises. The Court then took the “opportunity to clarify the two-step inquiry” and reached the “conclusion that, in situations such as the one here, police need not conduct a ‘further inquiry,’ the second part of the due diligence analysis, where they possess sufficient facts to form the basis for a reasonable conclusion that a third party has authority to give consent to enter a defendant’s home.” In this case Court noted that  “while it is best practice for police, prior to entry, simply to ask who is the resident of the home, in this situation, which the judge found to be ‘an ongoing emergency, public and perhaps medical,’ the officers did not make further inquiry because they relied on sufficient, unambiguous facts to conclude that they had consent to enter the premises. Having satisfied the first prong of the diligent inquiry analysis, they did not need to conduct further inquiry.”

 

Leave a Comment

7 + 10 =