Child Search Authority | Consent to Search Without a Warrant
Investigating a reported shooting, the police knock on the door to a home that is answered by an adolescent (a minor). Can the minor give the police permission to enter the home? Must the police ask whether the minor lives in the home? Should the police ask to speak to an adult? These issues were considered by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Limon v. State, a case that was released a couple of weeks ago and designated for publication.
In an 8-1 decision, with Judge Womack writing for the majority, the CCA held that, while there is no per se rule that a child may or may not give consent to entry, a minor may possess apparent child search authority. The CCA cited the reasoning of the Supreme Court in the case of Georgia v. Randolph, 547 U.S. 103 (2006) and also noted five key facts that contributed to its ultimate conclusion that the minor in this case had the apparent authority to consent to entry:
1) [The minor] opened the door by himself in response to [the officer’s] knock;
2) The trial court could have inferred from [the officer’s] testimony that [the minor] appeared to be a teenager of significant maturity, if not a young adult;
3) [The minor] consented to mere entry through the front door, as opposed to entry or search of less public areas of the house. (The reasoning being that the trial court could have believed that it was reasonable to rely on a teenager’s authority to consent to such a limited scope of entry, while it would not have been reasonable to rely on his authority to consent to a more intrusive search.);
4) The officer’s announced purpose was to conduct an emergency public-safety function; and
5) The time of entry (2 AM) could have led the trial court to believe that an individual opening the door at that hour was a resident rather than a guest.
Judge Meyers dissented, stating:
Nobody gives a teenager permission to allow strangers into their home. Yet, the majority focuses on what apparent authority the child in this case may have had to let the cops into the house a 2 o’clock in the morning. The police should presume that minors have no authority to consent to entry and should ask to speak to an adult. If no adults are available then the officers need to get a warrant (and possibly call CPS).