Friday, December 04, 2015

The Laptop, the Juvenile's Bedroom and Parental Consent

This post examines a recent opinion from the Court of Appeals of Indiana:  State v. R.B., 2015 WL 5306310 (2015).  The court begins the opinion by explaining that “R.B. appeals his adjudication as a delinquent for dangerous possession of a firearm, as a Class A misdemeanor when committed by an adult.”  State v. R.B., supra.
The prosecution was brought under Indiana Code 35-47-10.5, which provides as follows:
A child who knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly:
(1) possesses a firearm for any purpose other than a purpose described in section 1 of this chapter; or
(2) provides a firearm to another child with or without remuneration for any purpose other than a purpose described in section 1 of this chapter;
commits dangerous possession of a firearm, a Class A misdemeanor. However, the offense is a Class C felony if the child has a prior conviction under this section.
(You may wonder why the boy involved is only identified by his initials.  Many U.S. courts use juveniles’ initials in their opinions, as a way to protect their privacy, as minors.)
The Court of Appeals went on to explain that R.B. raised two arguments in appealing his adjudication as a delinquent, only one of which is examined in this post:
Whether his mother, T.B., had authority under the Fourth Amendment to consent to a police search of R.B.'s bedroom in T.B.'s house.
State v. R.B., supra.  If you are not familiar with the U.S. juvenile justice system, you can read a good summary of how it works here
The Court of Appeals went on to outline the events below that resulted in R.B.’s being investigated by law enforcement:
At about 7:30 a.m. on September 30, 2014, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Officer Sonya Daggy received a dispatch report of an attempted burglary. Officer Daggy spoke with the reporting homeowner, who gave a detailed description of the suspects, who were juveniles. The juveniles had fled south from the residence when the homeowner discovered them.

A few minutes later, Officer Daggy observed three juveniles about six blocks south of the home. Those individuals matched the descriptions provided by the homeowner. Officer Daggy observed that the juveniles were wearing school uniforms but were not in school, even though `juveniles about that age are generally . . . in school . . . about that time.’ . . . Officer Daggy stopped the juveniles, determined that they were supposed to be at school, and obtained their parents' contact information. R.B., who was fifteen years old, was one of the juveniles. Officer Daggy then contacted a parent for each juvenile and asked the parents to pick up their children.

When T.B. arrived to pick up R.B., Officer Daggy asked her `if she had seen [R.B.] with a white laptop recently.’ . . . Officer Daggy asked T.B. this question because `there had been several burglaries in that particular neighborhood’ recently, and Officer Daggy had `taken a burglary report where a white laptop had been stolen . . . approximately three weeks prior.’ . . . T.B. informed Officer Daggy that she had seen R.B. with a white laptop in the past few days but she did not know how R.B. had acquired the laptop.

Accordingly, Officer Daggy asked T.B. if they could go to T.B.'s house to `locate the laptop to see if it matched’ the stolen laptop. . . . .B. agreed.
State v. R.B., supra.
The opinion goes on to explain that Officer Daggy
then followed T.B. and R.B. to the house. There, Officer Daggy placed R.B. in handcuffs and had him `detained . . . in the living room’ with another officer. . . . T.B. then escorted Officer Daggy `directly to [R.B.'s] room,’ which T.B. then searched. . . . T.B. `pulled out several watches . . . out of the dresser drawer and threw them on the floor and also pulled out a small safe and tossed that on the floor,’ stating that `she didn't know where . . . this stuff came from.’ . . . T.B. then lifted R.B's mattress, and when she did so Officer Daggy `heard a loud click.’ . . . When Officer Daggy heard that noise, she asked T.B. `if it was ok [for Officer Daggy to] look[ ] in the mattress and box spring to see what that was.’ . . . T.B. agreed. Officer Daggy then searched the area and discovered three firearms inside the box spring.
State v. R.B., supra.
The brief that was filed as part of R.B.’s appealing his adjudication as a delinquent provides a little more detail:
Daggy entered R.B's bedroom without a search warrant. . . . [T.B.] lifted up R.B.'s mattress and box springs and Daggy heard a loud `click-click’ noise. . . . Daggy asked T.B. if she could look under the mattress and in the box springs. . . . T.B. agreed. . . . Daggy lifted up the mattress. . . . Getting on her hands and knees and using a flashlight, Daggy saw a black revolver through a hole in the box springs. . . .

Upon closer examination of the box springs, Daggy saw two more guns. . . . A detective came to the house and persuaded T.B. to sign a formal written consent to search. . . . The detective then seized the two other guns. . . . Continuing their search, officers also found a magazine clip containing several live rounds in R.B.'s bedroom. . . .
Brief for the Appellant, R.B. v. State, 2015 WL 5163577 (2015).
The opinion then goes on to explain that the
officers escorted R.B. to the police station, where he and T.B. met with Detective Jeremy Messer. Detective Messer advised R.B. and his mother of R.B.'s rights and allowed them an opportunity to consult. Thereafter, pursuant to T.B.'s advice, R.B. informed Detective Messer that he had purchased two of the three firearms `[f]or protection’ and that the third belonged to a friend. . . .

On October 1, the State alleged that R.B. was a delinquent for committing an act of dangerous possession of a firearm, as a Class A misdemeanor when committed by an adult. During the ensuing fact-finding hearing, R.B. objected to the admission of the firearms seized from his bedroom and to the admission of his confession to Detective Messer. The juvenile court overruled both objections and adjudicated R.B. a delinquent. This appeal ensued.
State v. R.B., supra. You can, if you are interested, read more about the juvenile justice system in Indiana in the document you can find here.
The Court of Appeals began its analysis of R.B.’s arguments on appeal by noting that
[w]e first consider R.B.'s argument that Officer Daggy violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures when she searched his bedroom without his consent and without a search warrant. R.B.'s argument on appeal emphasizes that he had a `subjective and objective expectation of privacy’ to his bedroom; that he `had a high degree of actual control and possession of his room”’; that `[h]is bedroom was his own space’; that he `had to live at his mother's house, or commit a delinquent act’; that T.B. `gave [him] a great deal of privacy’; and that `[his] expectation of privacy . . . is one society should see as justifiable under the circumstances. . . . Appellant's Brief at 10–12. We think these arguments miss the point.
State v. R.B., supra.
The court went on to point out that the
Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution states: `The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause. . . .’ As the Supreme Court of the United States has made clear, `the ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is “reasonableness.”’ Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398 (2006). Accordingly, the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement is subject to certain exceptions. Brigham City v. Stuart, supra. 

As relevant here, “[t]he Fourth Amendment recognizes a valid warrantless entry and search of premises when police obtain the voluntary consent of an occupant who shares, or is reasonably believed to share, authority over the area in common with a co-occupant who later objects to the use of evidence so obtained.’ Georgia v. Randolph, 547U.S. 103 (2006). . . .

That is what happened here. While R.B. did not consent to the search of the bedroom, his mother, the owner or renter of the house, did. There is no serious question that it is reasonable for an officer to rely on the voluntary consent of a minor's parent to search the minor's bedroom inside the parent's home.
State v. R.B., supra.
The court then explained that
this is what happened here. While R.B. did not consent to the search of the bedroom, his mother, the owner or renter of the house, did. There is no serious question that it is reasonable for an officer to rely on the voluntary consent of a minor's parent to search the minor's bedroom inside the parent's home.

In Randolph, the Court held that when two adults disagree about police entering their shared home a warrantless search cannot be justified on the grounds of consent, notwithstanding the fact that one of the two adults gave consent to the entry. . . . In reaching that conclusion, the Court explained that, in determining the validity of consent, `great significance [is] given to widely shared social expectations.’ . . .

And, on the facts before it, the Court concluded that `no recognized authority in law or social practice’ entitles an officer to rely on one adult occupant's consent over another adult occupant's objection. . . .

But the Randolph Court recognized limitations to its analysis. As the Court stated: `people living together [who] fall within some recognized hierarchy, like a household of parent and child,’ might have a `societal understanding of superior and inferior’ rights to use and enjoy the property. Georgia v. Randolph, supra.

That is of course the case with respect to minors in their parents' homes. The `widely shared social expectations’ in such circumstances are that the parents have unilateral authority over and access to the home. See Georgia v. Randolph, supra.

Accordingly, like numerous other jurisdictions, we reject R.B.'s argument that his mother's consent does not supersede his.  See, e.g., Wimberly v. State, 934 So.2d 411 (Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals 2005); In re D.C., 188 Cal.App.4th 978, 115 Cal. Rptr. 3d 837 (California Court of Appeals 2010);  State v. Jones, 193 Conn. 70, 475 A.2d 1087 (Connecticut Supreme Court 1984); Tallman v. State, 120 So.3d 593 (Florida District Court of Appeals 2013); In re Salyer, 44 Ill.App.3d 854, 358 N.E.2d 1333 (Illinois Court of Appeals 1977); Jacobs v. State, 681 S.W.2d 119 (Texas Court ofAppeals 1984).

We affirm the juvenile court's admission of the firearms seized by Officer Daggy during her search of R.B.'s bedroom.
State v. R.B., supra.
If you would like to read the full opinion, you can find it here

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