Fourth Amendment Rights - Shared Property

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How Do Fourth Amendment Rights Differ When People Share Property?

The Fourth Amendment provides protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.  To search someone's property, the police generally need probable cause, a search warrant, or consent to search by the home's occupent.   

When property is shared, such as when roommates share an apartment, either one can give valid consent to search the home.  This means that if one person is absent, the other occupant can give their consent to a property search, even if the absent party would not have allowed it.  

However, the property search is limited only to common areas and not to personal spaces that are not used by the roommate, such as an office or a bedroom.  Also, someone who owns property but does not use it, such as a landlord, cannot give consent.

What Happens if Two Property Holders are in Conflict?

The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that while any person who shares common authority over property can give valid consent to a search, anyone present can refuse consent.  This means that the police cannot conduct a search without a warrant when any person with common authority is present and objects.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

A lawyer can help you determine whether a search is legal.  A search made without a warrant or an exception such as valid consent is unreasonable, and the police cannot use any evidence obtained in the search.  Therefore, it is important to discuss the search with a criminal defense attorney who can evaluate the search procedure.

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Last Modified: 10-27-2011 04:37 PM PDT

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