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To uphold an entry upon a landlord's consent, search and seizure without a warrant would reduce the Fourth Amendment to a nullity and leave tenants' homes secure only in the discretion of landlords.
With the consent of Chapman’s landlord, Georgia law enforcement officers entered--through an unlocked window--and searched Chapman’s rented house, in his absence, and there seized an unregistered distillery and a number of gallons of mash. After having been indicted in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia for violations of the federal liquor laws, Chapman moved the court for an order suppressing the use of the seized items as evidence at his impending trial on the ground that they were obtained by an unlawful search and seizure. The motion was denied. At the subsequent trial, the evidence sought to be suppressed was received, over Chapman’s objections, and, upon that evidence, he was found guilty and sentenced. On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed.
Did the search and seizure violate the guaranties of the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches and seizures?
The court held that the search was unlawful and that the evidence was unlawfully admitted at Chapman’s trial. The landlord did not have authority to forcibly enter the property without Chapman’s consent, not even to view suspected waste, if it involved the breaking of windows or doors. Furthermore, the court noted that under these circumstances, the officers had time to obtain a valid search warrant because the suspect was not fleeing and the premises were permanent and not likely to disappear during the time it would have taken to obtain a warrant.