District Court Finds Hierarchy Of Privacy Interests

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

In the case of United States v. Johnson, four law enforcement officers conducted a “knock and talk” at a residence in Smyrna, Tennessee after an anonymous tip indicating that the residents possessed marijuana and a firearm. Johnson and his wife, Karen, emerged from the bedroom and the officers sought consent to search the house. Karen gave consent but Johnson did not consent (disputed by the officers). The officers searched the house and found a handgun, counterfeit money, and 100 grams of marijuana.

The United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee at Nashville found that Johnson did object to the search, but his objection was invalid because he was not a full-time resident and his privacy interest was inferior to his wife’s. Johnson appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit which reversed the district court denial of the motion to suppress.

The appeals court relied on the Supreme Court case of Georgia v. Randolph (2006), a 5-3 decision with J. Alito not participating. In Randolph the Supreme Court held that:

In the circumstances here at issue, a physically present co-occupant’s stated refusal to permit entry renders warrantless entry and search unreasonable and invalid as to him.

The opinion in Randolph refers to Illinois v. Rodriguez and United States v. Matlock, two cases in which the entry was permissible with the consent of one co-occupant since the other was absent. The appeals court opinion recognized that Randolph applies to all “residential co-occupancies,” notwithstanding the reality that the term may encompass a “multiplicity of living arrangements.”

It could be argued that the four officers, present at the “knock and talk,” could be viewed as intimidating. Any consent to enter would then be non-voluntary.

The decision of the district court is troubling since Randolph could not be more clear and on point. The district court strained its credibility with its attempt to ignore Randolph and secure the conviction. Such a poorly reasoned decision opens the district court’s motivation to speculation, none of it good.

More on “knock and talk” at If Called by a Panther, Don’t Anther.

H/T: FourthAmendment.com, The Federal Criminal Appeals Blog.

9 thoughts on “District Court Finds Hierarchy Of Privacy Interests”

  1. Hard to find a “good” answer to police questions after the point that you no longer wish to talk. May I suggest “No comment”. based on a traffic stop for marijuana in Missouri for – no apparent reason.

    They decided to search the vehicle despite my refusal to allow a voluntary search.

  2. The irony of this case is, White is a George W Bush appointee, Chief Judge Alice M. Batchelder is a George H. W. Bush appointee and Boggs is a RWR appointee….This is generally one of the most conservative COA, in my opinion….

  3. raff,

    All to often when a person pleads they give up the right to an automatic appeal….You may not collaterally attack the conviction under any circumstances…I realize not all states are the same…but this seems to be the trend of states in order to avoid timely and costly appeals…. If he was able to preserve the MTS and appeal a single issue…I am amazed…He had some good lawyering on his behalf….

    I just wonder what the Sct is going to do with this one….Will Alito sit this one out as well?

  4. “Hard cases make bad law” … perhaps the judge wondered if she would be treated like Casey Anthony if she ruled for the defendants.

    Glad the 6th Circuit reversed.

  5. serious question.. Why would officers even bother? they did not know about the counterfit money. Guns here in TN are everywhere (no one said these were illegal guns). and you are gonna pull 4 officers off the street to knock on peoples doors searching for POT?

  6. AY,
    You are correct that this guy’s attorney did his/her job well. I have to agree with the majority in this decision.

  7. This is a fairly good result…even though he plead to the charges and received 45 months in prison…he reserved the right to appeal the denial of the MTS….Excellent strategy…and apparently it will be going to the Sct…..

  8. If out of the blue four LEO’s presented themselves at our door most of us would be intimidated and not understand that we have the right not to admit them sans warrant and the right not to talk to them. However, the kicker is that if you stand on your constitutional rights and refuse entry and even the answering of their questions, they presume you guilty and it won’t be the end of their hunt. This is a “dicey” question today, made “dicier” by the tendency of LEO’s to disregard a citizen’s rights.

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