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Can a roommate give the police permission to search a shared home?

On Behalf of | Feb 21, 2024 | Criminal Defense

There are numerous rules that limit the conduct of police officers. For example, the Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches of their property, and the courts have ruled on many cases clarifying what constitutes a reasonable search. For example, typically, for a police officer to go through someone’s home, they need to meet very specific standards. A warrant makes a search legal in most cases. Officers can also search when they have probable cause. Probable cause is an articulable suspicion of criminal activity.

Otherwise, officers can only conduct searches of private property with someone’s permission. Sometimes, police officers try to get around a lack of permission by talking to someone else who lives at the same residence. Can a police officer secure permission to conduct a search from a roommate rather than the subject of their investigation?

Roommates can grant partial access

Technically, anyone who lives at the property can allow police officers inside. However, they can only give permission for officers to search the areas over which they personally have control. A roommate could allow an officer to look through shared spaces, such as the kitchen and living room. They could also allow an officer to go through their personal space, such as their bedroom or office.

A roommate usually cannot give a police officer consent to search another person’s private spaces. Police officers need to see, smell or hear something from within those spaces to grant them probable cause to search. Depending on someone’s living arrangements and the type of crimes that the police want to investigate, probable cause could include items that look like weapons or smells that indicate there are drugs in a room.

If police officers overstep their bounds and conduct searches without proper permission or probable cause, then the evidence that they uncover may not hold up if the issue goes to trial. A defense attorney could potentially challenge the inclusion of illegally-gathered evidence. The decision to challenge or exclude certain evidence could greatly weaken the state’s case or sometimes even result in the dismissal of pending criminal charges.

Understanding the limits on when police can search may help people recognize if a violation of their rights has potentially occurred.

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