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United States v. Andrus - 483 F.3d 711 (10th Cir. 2007)

Rule:

Subject to limited exceptions, the Fourth Amendment prohibits warrantless searches of an individual's home or possessions. Voluntary consent to a police search, given by the individual under investigation or by a third party with authority over the subject property, is a well-established exception to the warrant requirement. Valid third party consent can arise either through the third party's actual authority or the third party's apparent authority. A third party has actual authority to consent to a search if that third party has either (1) mutual use of the property by virtue of joint access, or (2) control for most purposes. Common authority over or another sufficient relationship to the premises or effects sought to be inspected may give rise to a third party's valid consent to search. Even where actual authority is lacking, however, a third party has apparent authority to consent to a search when an officer reasonably, even if erroneously, believes the third party possesses authority to consent.

Facts:

Defendant Ray Andrus was indicted on one count of possession of child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C.S. § 2252(a)(4)(B). Agents of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) found pornographic images of children on defendant' home computer after defendant' father, Dr. Bailey Andrus, consented to a search of the Andrus home and the computer. Defendant moved to suppress the inculpatory evidence found on his computer during the search, arguing Dr. Andrus' consent was not voluntary and that Dr. Andrus lacked both actual and apparent authority to consent to a search of the computer. The district court determined Dr. Andrus' consent was voluntary and that Dr. Andrus had apparent authority to consent to the search. The district court, accordingly, denied defendant's motion to suppress. After the district court's denial of his motion, Defendant pleaded guilty to the charge against him but retained the right to appeal the district court's denial of his suppression motion. He was sentenced to 70 months' imprisonment followed by three years' supervised release. In this appeal, defendant challenged the district court's denial of his suppression motion.

Issue:

Did the trial court err in denying defendant's motion to suppress the evidence on the computer on the grounds that defendant’s father lacked actual or apparent authority to consent to a search of the computer?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

Affirming on appeal, the Court concluded that the father had apparent authority to consent to the computer search. The Court noted that the forensic software used in the search allowed direct access to the hard drive without first determining whether a user name or password were needed. The Court ruled that, because the circumstances reasonably indicated that the father had mutual use of or control over the computer, the agents had no obligation to ask clarifying questions. Viewed under the required totality of the circumstances analysis, the facts known to the agents at the time the computer search commenced created an objectively reasonable perception that the father was, at least, one user of the computer.

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