Illinois v. Rodriguez (1990)

U.S. Supreme Court

Illinois v. Rodriguez, 497 U.S. 177 (1990)


Justice SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.



Respondent Edward Rodriguez was arrested in his apartment by law enforcement officers and charged with possession of illegal drugs. The police gained entry to the apartment with the consent and assistance of Gail Fischer, who had lived there with respondent for several months. The relevant facts leading to the arrest are as follows .

On July 26, 1985, police were summoned to the residence of Dorothy Jackson on South Wolcott in Chicago. They were met by Ms. Jackson’s daughter, Gail Fischer, who showed signs of a severe beating. She told the officers that she had been assaulted by respondent Edward Rodriguez earlier that day in an apartment on South California. Fischer stated that Rodriguez was then asleep in the apartment, and she consented to travel there with the police in order to unlock the door with her key so that the officers could enter and arrest him. During this conversation, Fischer several times referred to the apartment on South California as “our” apartment, and said that she had clothes and furniture there. It is unclear whether she indicated that she currently lived at the apartment, or only that she used to live there.

The police officers drove to the apartment on South California, accompanied by Fischer. They did not obtain an arrest warrant for Rodriguez, nor did they seek a search warrant for the apartment. At the apartment, Fischer unlocked the door with her key and gave the officers permission to enter. They moved through the door into the living room, where they observed in plain view drug paraphernalia and containers filled with white powder that they believed (correctly, as later analysis showed) to be cocaine. They proceeded to the bedroom, where they found Rodriguez asleep and discovered additional containers of white powder in two open attache cases. The officers arrested Rodriguez and seized the drugs and related paraphernalia.

Rodriguez was charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. He moved to suppress all evidence seized at the time of his arrest, claiming that Fischer had vacated the apartment several weeks earlier and had no authority to consent to the entry. The Cook County Circuit Court granted the motion, holding that, at the time she consented to the entry, Fischer did not have common authority over the apartment. The Court concluded that Fischer was not a “usual resident,” but rather an “infrequent visitor” at the apartment on South California, based upon its findings that Fischer’s name was not on the lease, that she did not contribute to the rent, that she was not allowed to invite others to the apartment on her own, that she did not have access to the apartment when respondent was away, and that she had moved some of her possessions from the apartment. The Circuit Court also rejected the State’s contention that, even if Fischer did not possess common authority over the premises, there was no Fourth Amendment violation if the police reasonably believed at the time of their entry that Fischer possessed the authority to consent.



The Fourth Amendment generally prohibits the warrantless entry of a person’s home, whether to make an arrest or to search for specific objects. Payton v. New York, 445 U. S. 573 (1980); Johnson v. United States, 333 U. S. 10 (1948). The prohibition does not apply, however, to situations in which voluntary consent has been obtained, either from the individual whose property is searched, see Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U. S. 218 (1973), or from a third party who possesses common authority over the premises, see United States v. Matlock, supra, 415 U.S. at 415 U. S. 171. The State of Illinois contends that that exception applies in the present case.

As we stated in Matlock, 415 U.S. at 415 U. S. 171, n. 7, “[c]ommon authority” rests “on mutual use of the property by persons generally having joint access or control for most purposes . . . .” The burden of establishing that common authority rests upon the State. On the basis of this record, it is clear that burden was not sustained. The evidence showed that, although Fischer, with her two small children, had lived with Rodriguez beginning in December, 1984, she had moved out on July 1, 1985, almost a month before the search at issue here, and had gone to live with her mother. She took her and her children’s clothing with her, though leaving behind some furniture and household effects. During the period after July 1, she sometimes spent the night at Rodriguez’s apartment, but never invited her friends there and never went there herself when he was not home. Her name was not on the lease, nor did she contribute to the rent. She had a key to the apartment, which she said at trial she had taken without Rodriguez’s knowledge (though she testified at the preliminary hearing that Rodriguez had given her the key). On these facts, the State has not established that, with respect to the South California apartment, Fischer had “joint access or control for most purposes.” To the contrary, the Appellate Court’s determination of no common authority over the apartment was obviously correct.



The State contends that, even if Fischer did not in fact have authority to give consent, it suffices to validate the entry that the law enforcement officers reasonably believed she did. 


“[T]he validity of the search of respondent’s apartment pursuant to a warrant authorizing the search of the entire third floor depends on whether the officers’ failure to realize the overbreadth of the warrant was objectively understandable and reasonable. Here it unquestionably was. The objective facts available to the officers at the time suggested no distinction between [the suspect’s] apartment and the third-floor premises.”


It is apparent that, in order to satisfy the “reasonableness” requirement of the Fourth Amendment, what is generally demanded of the many factual determinations that must regularly be made by agents of the government — whether the magistrate issuing a warrant, the police officer executing a warrant, or the police officer conducting a search or seizure under one of the exceptions to the warrant requirement — is not that they always be correct, but that they always be reasonable.


We see no reason to depart from this general rule with respect to facts bearing upon the authority to consent to a search. Whether the basis for such authority exists is the sort of recurring factual question to which law enforcement officials must be expected to apply their judgment, and all the Fourth Amendment requires is that they answer it reasonably. The Constitution is no more violated when officers enter without a warrant because they reasonably (though erroneously) believe that the person who has consented to their entry is a resident of the premises than it is violated when they enter without a warrant because they reasonably (though erroneously) believe they are in pursuit of a violent felon who is about to escape. See Archibald v. Mosel, 677 F.2d 5 (CA1 1982). *


Justice MARSHALL, with whom Justice BRENNAN and Justice STEVENS join, dissenting.

Dorothy Jackson summoned police officers to her house to report that her daughter, Gail Fischer, had been beaten. Fischer told police that Ed Rodriguez, her boyfriend, was her assaulter. During an interview with Fischer, one of the officers asked if Rodriguez dealt in narcotics. Fischer did not respond. Fischer did agree, however, to the officers’ request to let them into Rodriguez’s apartment so that they could arrest him for battery. The police, without a warrant and despite the absence of an exigency, entered Rodriguez’s home to arrest him. As a result of their entry, the police discovered narcotics that the State subsequently sought to introduce in a drug prosecution against Rodriguez.

The majority agrees with the Illinois Appellate Court’s determination that Fischer did not have authority to consent to the officers’ entry of Rodriguez’s apartment. Ante at 497 U. S. 181-182. The Court holds that the warrantless entry into Rodriguez’s home was nonetheless valid if the officers reasonably believed that Fischer had authority to consent. 


Unlike searches conducted pursuant to the recognized exceptions to the warrant requirement, see supra at 497 U. S. 191-192, third-party consent searches are not based on an exigency, and therefore serve no compelling social goal. Police officers, when faced with the choice of relying on consent by a third party or securing a warrant, should secure a warrant, and must therefore accept the risk of error should they instead choose to rely on consent.


A search conducted pursuant to an officer’s reasonable but mistaken belief that a third party had authority to consent is thus on an entirely different constitutional footing from one based on the consent of a third party who in fact has such authority. Even if the officers reasonably believed that Fischer had authority to consent, she did not, and Rodriguez’s expectation of privacy was therefore undiminished. Rodriguez accordingly can challenge the warrantless intrusion into his home as a violation of the Fourth Amendment. 



Now imagine that two people are present when police request consent to enter a home. One person consents while the other says, “Stay out!” Consent or no consent?  Why or why not?  The Court addresses this issue in the next case. 


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