United States v. Matlock

PETITIONER:United States
RESPONDENT:William Earl Matlock
LOCATION:Matlock Residence

DOCKET NO.: 72-1355
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 415 US 164 (1974)
ARGUED: Dec 10, 1973 / Dec 11, 1973
DECIDED: Feb 20, 1974
GRANTED: May 29, 1973

Donald S. Eisenberg – for respondent
Lawrence G. Wallace – argued the cause for the United States

Facts of the case

Police arrested William Earl Matlock, a bank robbery suspect, in the front yard of the house where he lived. Police did not ask Matlock which room he occupied in the house or whether they could conduct a search. A woman, who gave them permission to search the house, including the bedroom where Matlock lived, let the officers inside. The woman’s parents leased the house and Matlock paid them rent for his room. In that room, police found $4,995 in cash.

At trial, Matlock moved to suppress evidence obtained during the search. He argued that the unwarranted search of his room was illegal. At the suppression hearing, the woman who agreed to the search testified that she lived with Matlock in his room. This gave her sufficient authority to lawfully consent to the search. The district court held that those statements were inadmissible hearsay and granted the motion to suppress. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit Affirmed.


(1) Does a third party with control over a space have authority to consent to a search?

(2) Were the woman’s statements that she lived with Matlock inadmissible hearsay?

Media for United States v. Matlock

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – December 11, 1973 in United States v. Matlock
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – December 10, 1973 in United States v. Matlock

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – February 20, 1974 in United States v. Matlock

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Justice White will announce the disposition of 72-1355, United States against Matlock.

Byron R. White:

In this case, the federal officers seized certain evidence in the course of searching the house.

They had no warrant, but relied on consent of one of the occupants.

The District Court held that the consent was invalid and suppressed the evidence, Court of Appeals affirmed for the reasons stated in the opinion on file.

We in turn reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case to the District Court for further proceeding.

Mr. Justice Douglas is has filed a dissenting opinion and Mr. Justice Brennan ahs also filed a dissenting opinion in which Mr. Justice Marshall joins.