If the police want to obtain consent to perform a search of a property, who do they have to obtain it from?

Can my friend who doesn't legally own the house, or pay rent, but is just staying with me for a few days consent to search?

What if one of my guests, who doesn't live there at all, answers the door with me, and I say they may not search but the guest says they can?

What if initially the guest lets them in and they start searching but when I find out I object?

What if someone who doesn't live in my house and wasn't invited to my house (just wanders in while I'm having a party) allows them in?

What if a cat-burglar gets surprised by them and pretends he lives there, and consents to search?

I'm interested in the US generally, but if this is something that varies across states, a breakdown of what is typical, with examples from a few states, would still be a good answer.

1 Answer 1


With respect to 4th Amendment protections, which guard against unreasonable searches, Illinois v. Rodriguez, 497 U.S. 177 held that "A warrantless entry is valid when based upon the consent of a third party whom the police, at the time of the entry, reasonably believe to possess common authority over the premises, but who in fact does not". Cat burglar consent may be reasonable, depending on the circumstances, as could guest consent. The difference between the two is that with the cat burglar, you (as owner) can't overcome the reasonableness of the police assuming that the owner gives consent since you're not there, but with the party guest consenting, you can contradict the impression of control that the guest gave, and you can deny consent (if you are there and can contradict the guest). Georgia v. Randolph, 547 U.S. 103 addresses that point: "a physically present co-occupant’s stated refusal to permit entry renders warrantless entry and search unreasonable and invalid as to him".

As far as I can tell, there is no specific obligation for police to verify that the person ostensibly consenting is authorized. They don't have to ask, and they don't have to independently verify implications (e.g. if the third party says 'our apartment', they don't have to ask 'does that mean that you live here?'). A third party could say something that would make the "occupant" assumption unreasonable.

  • Would they have to ask "Are you Mr. Smith" for example? Or can they just ask "can we come in to search your home" and if my idiot friend says "yes" that's it? (I assume if my idiot friend says wrongly that he is me, and allows them in, then they are fine).
    – gnasher729
    Mar 4, 2018 at 16:54

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