Well, The U.S. Supreme Court handed down an opinion today that should lend some comfort to civil libertarians (who had begun to fear, quite frankly, that protections against search and seizure in this country were beginning to constitute a dying body of law). The Supreme Court held that in cases where the police are seeking to perform a search in a home where at least two residents are cohabitating together, permission to search the home from one of the residents without permission from the other resident (especially when the second resident explicitly refuses to give permission) is not sufficient to provide a basis for a warrantless search.
Prior to this, the law seemed to indicate that if any party residing in the home gave permission to search, then officers were entitiled to search the house regardless of the wishes of any other cohabitants who were also living there (there are additional issues for locked rooms inside the house that the person granting permission to search doesn't have access to and so forth, but you get the general idea...).
Anyway, in general, as most of you have surmised by now, Steanso is typically a pretty big civil libertarian. I can definitely see why it's a good thing to have a rule that prohibits your crazy-ass roommate from giving the cops permission to enter and raid your place just because that roommate gets mad at you and decides to call the police. It's nice to know that your privacy is protected and that even people who live with you with can't give that right away.
On the other hand, maybe as a result of my new job, I can see how this new ruling is going to make things much more difficult for the police- especially when they're relying upon consent as a valid basis for their search. The need to gain consent from each and every member of a household may make consent searches extremely chaotic (if the offense reports that I read in my current work are any indication, it may be difficullt in many situations to determine who lives in a given home [as opposed to visitors] and to then make sure that consent to search has been given by each individual who lives there. If officers think that they've gotten permission to search a residence from all of the occupants of the house, but then, still acting in good faith, overlook one of the residents, does this render the search invalid?
I guess I'm just saying that the old law had more of a "bright line rule" for officers to follow and adhere to in the field- namely, that it was ok to enter a residence once you were given permission from anyone who lived there. With this new rule the officers have to make sure that they have gotten permission from everyone who lives in a home before entering, and my own prior experience with criminal clients has taught me that criminals are a pretty transitory group. Many of them float around and live with different people, and at any given time, some of the larger groups or families may not even be exactly sure about who considers themselves to be a resident of a given home at a given time. You can look at utility bills and who gets the mail at the house, but that may not tell you everyone who is actually staying there.
Anyway, this new ruling only deals with warrantless consent searches of homes and says nothing about searches which occur in emergencey situations (e.g., someone may be hurt and hidden in the house somewhere), exigent circumstances doctrine (e.g., evidence may be in danger of being destroyed unless a search is promptly conducted), or searches with warrants.
I guess the most important realization to come out of this pretty surprising ruling is that it's another indication that the court may not have swung nearly as far to the right as many had feared. First Alito comes out of the gate with a ruling that upholds a stay of execution for some guy who wants to challenge the constitutionality of lethal injection, and now this? We've got some new justices, but it doesn't seem that they're ready to burst into our homes and force us to go to church at gunpoint just yet....