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Court affirms 86-year-old uncle could consent to search

January 31, 2014

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a defendant’s argument that his elderly uncle was a confused old man who was out of touch with reality and, therefore, unable to consent to a search of his home when police showed up looking to serve an arrest warrant. The search led to the arrest of the grandson on drug and weapons charges.

Timothy Richards appealed the denial of his two motions to suppress evidence found by police in the home of his uncle, Edward Rawls. Fort Wayne Police officers went to Rawls’ home because they had information a person they were seeking to arrest frequented the home. Rawls, the homeowner, allowed the officers inside and gave them permission to look around. Paul Wilson, a person the police sought, was not one of the people in the home, but Richards was there. Officers saw him with drugs. When they handcuffed Richards, they found a handgun and knife on him.

The officers did not have a search warrant for Rawls’ home, but Rawls consented to a search of the bedroom where Richards stayed when he visited his uncle. It had a lock on it but was unlocked at the time. Inside, the officers found more drugs. Richards was convicted of four charges related to the search.

In United States of America v. Timothy L. Richards, 12-3763, Richards argued that his uncle’s age prevented him from consenting to the search because he was an “old man out of touch with reality.”

“In Richards’ case, there is no evidence that Rawls suffered from a diagnosed mental disability or that officers had any reason to believe that he could not consent to the search of his home. Three officers testified about their interactions with Rawls; each concluded that Rawls appeared to understand his rights and be free of mental defects,” Judge William Bauer wrote. “Officer Ealing was specially trained to recognize symptoms of mental illness, and he testified that Rawls appeared to have ‘all his mental faculties about him.’ Without evidence of aberrant behavior from Rawls on December 8, 2009, we conclude that the district court’s finding that Rawls was capable of voluntarily consenting to the officers’ search was not clearly erroneous.

“Richards also contends that Rawls could not voluntarily consent to the search on December 8, 2009, because he was too intoxicated. But the record lacks any evidence to support this contention.”

The judges also held that Rawls’ authority to consent to the search of his house was sufficient to allow the officers’ warrantless search of the bedroom where Richards stayed. It was reasonable for the officers to believe it was Rawls who placed the padlock on the door, not Richards.
 

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