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United States v. Hudspeth, 518 F.3d 954 (8th Cir. 2008) (full-text).
Factual Background Edit
In July of 2002 drug enforcement officers executed a search warrant at Handi-Rak Services, Inc., seeking evidence relating to large quantity sales of pseudoephedrine tablets. Roy J. Hudspeth arrived at the business while the search was underway. During the course of the search, officers discovered child pornography on Hudspeth’s computer and homemade CDs. Hudspeth was arrested for possession of child pornography by officer Nash.
Nash believing that Hudspeth's home computer probably contained child pornography as well and asked Hudspeth for permission to go search his home computer. Hudspeth refused. Nash and three officers went to Hudspeth's home. Nash asked Hudspeth's wife if he could inspect the computer and/or take the computer with him. Hudspeth’s wife asked what would happen if she refused and Nash informed her that he would apply for a search warrant, and in the meantime an armed officer would be left in her home until Nash returned to ensure evidence would not be destroyed.
Nash did not inform Hudspeth's wife that Hudspeth already had refused to consent to the search. After unsuccessfully trying to contact her attorney, Hudspeth's wife allowed Nash to take her husband’s computer along with CDs that were next to it that bore the same markings as the CDs at the company. Nash obtained a second warrant to search the contents on the CDs and computer seized from Hudspeth's home.
Trial Court Proceedings Edit
Hudspeth was indicted for possession of child pornography and unsuccessfully moved to suppress the evidence seized during the searches of the company and the home computer. Hudspeth entered a conditional guilty plea to possession of child pornography, reserving the right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. Hudspeth was sentenced to sixty months imprisonment, the maximum under 18 U.S.C. §2252A.
Appellate Court Proceedings Edit
Hudspeth appealed the district court's denial of the suppression motion and the application of sentencing enhancements. The appellate panel unanimously affirmed the district court's denial of the suppression of evidence of what was on the business and home computer. The panel also unanimously upheld Hudspeth's sentence, concluding under the terms of Hudspeth's plea agreement, Hudspeth waived the right to appeal any sentence not exceeding the statutory maximum. The panel unanimously agreed that Hudspeth's wife's consent was voluntary and not coerced, but a majority of the panel reversed the district court's denial of Hudspeth's motion to suppress the evidence seized during the warrantless search of Hudspeth's home computer by applying Georgia v. Randolph,, and concluding Hudspeth's objection to the search overruled his wife's later consent.
En Banc Rehearing Edit
The en banc panel held that when considering a district court's denial of a suppression motion, the court reviews for clear error the districts court's factual findings and de novo its legal conclusions based on those facts.
The court reviewed the case not only in light of Randolph, but also in light of two earlier U.S. Supreme Court decisions. In United States v. Matlock, the Supreme Court reversed the suppression that was affirmed on appeal. The Supreme Court held that the government could satisfy its burden of proving consent to a warrantless search by showing "permission to search was obtained from a third party who possessed common authority over . . . the premises".
The Supreme Court held in Illinois v. Rodriquez that a police officer's reasonable belief that a person with common authority over the premises consented to the search is enough to satisfy the reasonableness requirement under the Fourth Amendment. The Court further noted that the Fourth Amendment does not assure a defendant "no government search of his house will occur unless he consents," rather the Fourth Amendment guarantees only "no such search will occur that is 'unreasonable.'" "The fundamental objective that alone validates all unconsented government searches is, of course, the seizure of persons who have committed or are about to commit crimes, or of evidence related to crimes."
In the present case, the court noted that when the wife consented to the seizure of the home computer, Hudspeth had already been arrested and jailed. Hudspeth's arrest was based on child pornography previously seized during the warrant search of the office. The independently discovered evidence, combined with information volunteered by the wife, provided probable cause for Nash to believe the home computer contained additional contraband. Nash also witnessed Hudspeth make several phone calls which led him to believe that the information on the home computer could be destroyed.
Nash informed the wife of her right to refuse the search, which she did and later rescinded. The officers in the present case were not confronted with a "social custom" dilemma where two physically present co-tenants have contemporaneous competing interests, and one consents to the search while the other does not. The Fourth Amendment reasonableness requirement did not demand that the officers inform the wife of her husband’s refusal (a conclusion that was supported by Matlock and Rodriguez). The Fourth Amendment does not prohibit warrantless searches and seizures, nor does the Fourth Amendment always prohibit warrantless searches and seizures where the defendant previously objected to the search and seizure. "What [Hudspeth] is assured by the Fourth Amendment itself is . . . no such search will occur that is unreasonable." The Supreme Court explained that "it is reasonable to recognize that any of the co-inhabitants has the right to permit the inspection in his [or her] own right." And the absent, expressly objecting co-inhabitant has "assumed the risk" that another co-inhabitant "might permit the common area to be searched."
The court concluded that the seizure of Hudspeth's home computer was reasonable and the Fourth Amendment was not violated when the officers sought the wife's consent despite having received the defendant's previous refusal.