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Can your roommate give the police consent to search?

You’re young and — now that you’re no longer living at home — you’re excited about your newfound sense of agency and freedom.

All that freedom can be lost in an instant, however, if the police end up inside the apartment or house you share with your roommates and discover the drugs you’re hiding.

You know your Fourth Amendment rights, but do your roommates?

You’re smart enough to know that the police can knock on your door and ask to come in, but they cannot enter unless they have just cause or a warrant.

But what about your roommates? Do they understand their Fourth Amendment rights? Will they protect yours?

An uninformed roommate can be a serious legal danger for you if you’re hiding drugs in your home. If your roomie happens to be home when the police come calling, they have as much right as you to consent to a search of the common areas of the home — and they may not realize that they have the right to decline.

Is it time to hold a house meeting?

It may be wise to make sure that everyone in your home is on the same page when it comes to the authorities. Some good points to cover include:

  • Unless the police have a warrant, you’re under no obligation to answer the door when they knock.
  • If you do answer the door, step outside to speak with the police and shut the door behind you. That way, the police can’t see what’s going on inside the house and spot anything like a bong or a pipe that could justify a warrantless search.
  • If the police ask to search something, always decline. If they’re asking, they don’t have a warrant (and probably can’t get one).

If you do end up in trouble over drugs that were found in your shared dwelling space, be smart: Stay silent. Don’t admit to anything. Don’t try to talk your way out of trouble. Speak to an experienced defense attorney here in Harrisonburg, instead.

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