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

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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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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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