-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.