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In Georgia v. Randolph, the Supreme Court held that police are not allowed to search the premises without a search warrant based on one resident’s consent if another occupant objects (Georgia v. Randolph, 2006). The court provided distinctions between the Randolph case and the United States v. Matlock case and “co-occupant consent rule,” granting permission to search without obtaining a search warrant (Georgia v. Randolph, 2006). This paper will provide an analysis of whether Georgia v. Randolph’s case applies to a seizure of computers or other high-tech evidence found in the home.
Georgia v. Randolph
After a domestic dispute, the estranged wife of the respondent reported to police that her spouse, Scott Randolph, had taken away some belongings along with their child (Georgia v. Randolph, 2006). Janet Randolph informed the officers of her husband’s drug habit and volunteered to present them with the physical evidence of cocaine use in the house (Georgia v. Randolph, 2006). Scott Randolph denied the drag addiction and told the police that it was his spouse who abused illegal substances and alcohol. Upon Janet’s consent to the search of premises, one of the policemen on sight, Sergeant Murray, asked for Scott’s permission, which he refused to provide (Georgia v. Randolph, 2006).
Immediately thereafter, the respondent’s wife escorted the officer to a bedroom where a part of the drug paraphernalia was found. After obtaining a search warrant, the police were able to seize further evidence of illegal substance abuse, which led to Scott Randolph’s indictment for possession of cocaine (Georgia v. Randolph, 2006). The trial court did not grant him “motion to suppress the evidence” obtained after consent to search provided by Janet Randolph as “products of a warrantless search unauthorized by consent” (Georgia v. Randolph, 2006).
The Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the State Supreme Court’s decision to distinguish the validity of consent to search with and without the presence of another co-inhabitant. It also recognized the differences between United States v. Matlock example and Randolph’s case. The Randolph Court stated that the notion of the search based on the co-inhabitants consent has a foundation in “widely shared social expectations” (Georgia v. Randolph, 2006). It also noted that in the absence of agreement between co-inhabitants, police must apply the “social expectations test” to the cases of domestic abuse or other extreme circumstances (Georgia v. Randolph, 2006).
United States v. King
The question of whether Georgia v. Randolph’s case can be applied to a seizure of computers or other high-tech evidence found in the home was analyzed in the 2009 United States v. King case. The respondent claimed that the officers seizing his hard drive, without obtaining a warranty or having his consent, violated the Fourth Amendment (the United States v. King, 2009). He moved to suppress the evidence obtained from a seizure of the device following his unequivocal refusal to provide consent for the search.
The court recognized a unique question of law “when an owner of computer consent to its seizure, does that consent include the computer’s hard drive even when it was installed by another who claims ownership of it and objects to its seizure?” (United States v. King, 2009). The Third Circle expressed its disagreement with the Ninth Circle and ruled that in the case of the seizure of a computer Georgia v. Randolph’s law cannot be applied.
Moreover, the court noted that it is only applicable to homes and cannot be extended to personal effects, therefore the suppression argument of the King fails (the United States v. King, 2009). Thus, recognising a computer as a personal effect, The Third Circle applied the Mattlock’s rule and decided that King’s privacy rights were relinquished upon his consent to place it in the computer owned by his co-inhabitant. Therefore, the decision of the District Court to recognise the evidence from the device as admissible did not violate the Fourth Amendment (United States v. King, 2009).
Exceptions to the Warrant Requirement
The seizure of computer-based or other high-tech evidence is problematic from a legal perspective. Despite the computer being physical equipment it can be regarded both as logical and physical evidence (Stanley, 2008). Therefore, it is really important to recognize the distinctions between two perspectives to determine the “reasonableness of a consent search” and whether the scope of consent is being exceeded by the search (Stanley, 2008). Whether a party provided consent would determine the totality of legal circumstances (NPC, 2007).
In the absence of consent to the search, the police might apply a search incident to lawful arrest. If a suspect has a piece of electronic evidence in their immediate vicinity or “within their wingspan” then such evidence would be deemed as admissible. It would constitute an exception to issuance of a warrant (NPC, 2007). However, an officer conducting a search must have a probable cause for the arrest. Emergencies and hot pursuit constitute another rationale for a search in the absence of consent (NPC, 2007). In the case where evidence can be easily destroyed or concealed before issuance of a warrant, police is allowed to conduct a search and seizure (NPC, 2007).
Georgia v. Randolph, 04 F.3d 1067 (USSC 2006).
NPC. (2007). Exceptions to the warrant requirement. Web.
Stanley, A. (2008). The continuing evolution of consent and authority in digital search and seizure. Media and Entertainment Law Journal, 19(1), 180-217.
United States of America v. Richard D. King, JR., 09 F.3d 1861 (3rd Cir., 2009).