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Mom Consents to Search of Son’s Room

Although defendant claimed his mother could not consent to a police search of his bedroom after she called police to her house after she and the son argued over his payment of rent and because he had a gun and sold drugs from the home, police did not violate defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights when they entered his unlocked bedroom and found marijuana; the Norfolk Circuit Court denies defendant’s motion to suppress evidence found in the room and in defendant’s car.

In this case, police were interacting with the citizen who called them out of concern about a gun in her home. She greeted police and admitted them into the residence which she claimed to be her own. She had access to defendant’s bedroom, which was not locked. She had the same last name as defendant, which corroborated her claim that he was her son.

The single factor that should have caused police to doubt the mother’s authority to consent, according to defendant, was the reference to defendant’s rent obligation. A rent obligation should have suggested that he was a tenant with attendant privacy rights that could not be waived by a landlord.

The mother’s use of the word “rent” in the setting of a family residence did not mandate the conclusion that defendant had an independent estate in the premises over which his mother could exercise no authority. Grown children often chip in to pay household expenses, including rent, when their parents permit them to live under the same roof. If defendant had been unrelated to the homeowner or if his bedroom had had a lock on the door, the police may have been required to make further inquiry; but mothers frequently have control over premises where their children reside, as the police certainly knew.

The court finds the police reasonably concluded that defendant’s mother had the authority to consent to a search of her residence where she lived with her son. The court denies the motion to suppress the evidence recovered from her son’s room.

Defendant also challenges the existence of probable cause for bringing a narcotics detection canine to the scene for the purposes of sniffing the air around a car registered to defendant. This argument is without merit. Reasonable and articulable suspicion is not required before police may use a canine trained in drug detection to sniff the air about an enclosure believed to contain drugs.

The police had probable cause to search defendant’s car based on the alert from Duke, the trained narcotics detection dog.

Motion to suppress denied.

Commonwealth v. Saunders (Hall) No. CR 13-3006, Feb. 24, 2014; Norfolk Cir.Ct. VLW 014-8-021, 4 pp.

VLW 014-8-021

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