Court: Girlfriend could consent to search

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a defendant's conviction of possession of ammunition by a felon, finding the defendant's girlfriend had the authority to consent to a search of the apartment by police when the defendant was not present.

In United States of America v. Daniel Groves Sr., No. 07-1217, the Circuit Court had to determine whether Daniel Groves' girlfriend, Shaunta Foster, could allow police to search their apartment without a warrant in light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court case, Georgia v. Randolph, 547 U.S. 103 (2006).

When Foster consented to the search of the apartment she shared with Groves in 2004, the Randolph case had not yet been ruled on by the U.S. Supreme Court. That ruling came after Groves' case went before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals during Groves' first appeal of his conviction.

In this case, police responded to a call of shots fired in South Bend near Groves' apartment, and Groves admitted he lived at the residence where the shots were reported to have been fired. Groves refused the officers' request to search his apartment, and a federal magistrate denied the officers a search warrant. Police decided to go to his apartment when Groves was at work and talk to his girlfriend to see if she would let them in. Foster signed a consent form, and the agents found bullets in a drawer in Groves' nightstand. Groves moved to suppress the evidence found during the search, which was denied. In Groves' first appeal of this issue, the 7th Circuit directed the District Court to address three issues in the appeal: whether Foster had apparent or actual authority to consent to the search of the apartment, whether the Randolph ruling affected the suppression claim, and whether Foster voluntarily consented to the search.

On remand, the District Court issued its finding based on the Circuit Court's order and again denied Groves' motion to suppress. The federal appellate court affirmed the District Court ruling, finding evidence supports that Foster could consent to the search of the apartment. The District Court determined Foster was a co-occupant of the apartment and possessed common authority over it to allow for a search, including a search of the nightstand where the evidence was found. Foster told police there were no limits to where she could go in the apartment and said she had cleaned the nightstand even though she didn't use it, wrote Judge Illana Rovner.

Police didn't violate the standard held in Randolph - that "a warrantless search of a shared dwelling for evidence over the express refusal of consent by a physically present resident cannot be justified as reasonable as to him on the basis of consent given to police by another resident." The District Court found the police officers didn't do anything to cause Groves' absence from the apartment because they waited until he was at work to approach Foster. Groves also didn't object at the door, as is required in Randolph, and the facts in his case don't justify relief under Randolph, she wrote.

The District Court found Foster voluntarily consented to the search, saying she was of at least average intelligence, the officers didn't threaten her in order to convince her to allow the search, and the police advised her fully of her rights - including her right to insist on a search warrant, Judge Rovner wrote.

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