Friday, March 19, 2010

University official does not have apparent authority to consent to dorm room

David N. Harger won in State v. Jordan, No. 102,846 (Kan. App. March 5, 2010)(unpublished), affirming Judge Dickinson's suppression order in a McPherson County rape prosecution. Officers were investigating a rape that allegedly happened in a dorm room on the McPherson College campus. Police obtained consent from a resident director to enter Mr. Jordan's dorm room, entered it and took photographs of it, leading to a later search warrant.

The COA quickly dispatched the state's claim that the resident director had actual authority to consent to search of the dorm room:
While some circumstances may exist where college officials could open a dorm room for the college's purposes, [the resident director] opened Jordan's room solely to assist the police in a criminal investigation. In this circumstance, we are considering Jordan's Fourth Amendment rights, and any consent to the opening of the room must have come either from Jordan or from some third party with common authority over the premises through mutual use on a regular basis, like a roommate.

The district court held that the resident direct did not have apparent authority to consent to search of the dorm room and the COA upheld that finding:
[A]n officer's factual mistake can justify the application of the apparent-authority doctrine to turn an invalid consent into one that police may rely upon. In every case in which officers have acted in good faith, they believe that the person giving consent has the authority to do so; that belief cannot be enough to get around the Fourth Amendment or our protections would evaporate. [The officer] wasn't mistaken here as to any facts. [The officer] knew that the room's resident hadn't been located or asked for permission to enter the room. He relied upon college officials for the legal
opinion that they had authority to enter a student's locked dorm room when acting only for the purpose of helping the police in investigating a crime. The college officials here acted only as agents of the police-police may not insulate themselves from legal error by asking their agents for a legal opinion that blesses a Fourth Amendment violation.

The COA also held that it would not consider application of the inevitable discovery doctrine because it had not been raised at the district court.

[Update: the state did not file a PR and the mandate issued on April 8, 2010.]

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