Thursday, May 24, 2007

SCOTUS holds that diversity permits continued search of residence

In Los Angeles County v. Rettele, SCOTUS dealt with an unreasonable search and seizure issue. Deputies of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department obtained a valid warrant to search a house, but they were unaware that the suspects being sought had moved out three months earlier. When the deputies searched the house, they found in a bedroom two residents who were of a different race (white) than the suspects (blacks). Rettele and his girlfriend were forced out of bed and to stand naked while the police searched the house. The poilice did not find the suspects and left. Rettele brought suit under §1983, naming the deputies and other parties and accusing them of violating the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. At base, Rettele argued that as soon as the police saw that he and his girlfriend were white, they should have realized they had the wrong house and stopped the search. SCOTUS disagreed:

When the deputies ordered respondents from their bed, they had no way of knowing whether the African-American suspects were elsewhere in the house. The presence of some Caucasians in the residence did not eliminate the possibility that the suspects lived there as well. As the deputies stated in their affidavits, it is not uncommon in our society for people of different races to live together. Just as people of different races live and work together, so too might they engage in joint criminal activity. The deputies, who were searching a house where they believed a suspect might be armed, possessed authority to secure the premises before deciding whether to continue with the search.

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