There has been a controversy when it comes to authorities searching an adult child’s room. An adult child is a person who has reached the legal age and still lives with his/her parents. The matter of debate is, whether the parents have the right to give authorities consent to search the adult child’s room in case the child commits a crime. The United States Constitution guarantees that every person has a right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Any evidence obtained under the violation of the Fourth Amendment cannot be admitted during prosecution even if it is probative or relevant. Every seizure or search should be reasonable and should have a warrant. The exceptions for reasonable warrant-less searched are provided in the constitution.
John C Miller (2010), in the journal “Criminal Justice” analyzes several cases concerning search and seizure of an adult’s child room. Miller explains that the authority of a parent depends on the relationship between a child and a parent. In case where normally the parent has no authority to enter the child’s room at any time or in case the adult child pays rents or contributes to the welfare of the household, the parent has no authority in giving any consent. Most Courts assume that parents have apparent authority to search their children’s room under “My house, my rules” doctrine. However parents may have consent to search their children rooms when they are under 18 years old but when they get older the authority is limited to a number of facts.
Adult Children, Parent Consent and Fourth Amendment
Parents may consent search of adult children equipment and containers if they are residing in the common areas of the family home (United States v. Lavin, 1992 WL 373486, 6 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 30, 1992). However when it comes to searching adult child’s private room, a parent’s consent is not sufficient. The agent searching the room must make sure that he/she concentrates to three factors namely; does the adult child pay rent?, what is the child’s age?, or whether the child has affirmatively denied his parents authority to invade his room or private area(Miller, 2007 pp 35).In United States v. Whitfield, 939 F.2d 1071, 1075 (D.C. Cir. 1991), the courts have denied parents consent when an adult child has denied them access to his or her room or when he pays all or part of the rent or his name appears on the lease documents.
In contrast parents can give consent if the child is under 18 years, does not pay or contribute to rent and if he allows his or her parents to often enter his room without restrictions. However in a case where a child closes his or her door or changes a lock to his/her room, it means that the child has restricted the parents from entry and therefore the parent cannot give consent. In a case where the adult child shares the room with younger siblings and the parents constantly visit the room, the parent may give consent unless there is a clear indication from the adult child that he/she should not touch her/his belongings.
Courts however have different views in regard to who should give consent. Some courts believe that the property owner or home owner should give consent to search over his or her property and home regardless of restrictions from children. The courts assume that the homeowner is the parent and he can give consent in search of private bedrooms as well as the property in that room. However Fourth amendment restricts unlawful breach of children’s privacy and dignity in their homes. The Tenth Circuit case “U.S. v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 172 n.7 (1974)” illustrates that the nature of relationship that gives rise to presumption of control cannot be ruled by home ownership of one of the parties (Miller, 2007 pp 38). An adult child is entitled to privacy whether he or she owns the home or not. The seventh Circuit case (1992) “U.S v. Duran, 957 F2d 499, 505” states that relationship established through merely living together does not give a party authority over the others closed containers or private bedroom.
Miller believes that the most important aspect when it comes to giving consent is the nature of parent-child relationship. He believes that before a parent gives consent he/she must consider the nature of the relationship with the child. If the child does not allow him to invade his room or if the child locks his room or his property it is a complete sign that the parent does not have permission. However if the parent constantly visits the room, cleans it or straightens it, washes the laundry and put them in order without restrictions, then it implies that the parent can give consent to the search.
The ultimate decision on whether a parent should give consent to police agent to search the child private room or closed container depends on given factors. The age of the child is important as any child under the age of 18 years is a responsibility of a parent. Although the fourth amendment prohibits unlawful entry of a child’s privacy the exceptional clauses may sometimes give the parent authority to consent a search. It is harder for a parent to consent search of an adult child’s private room if the child pays rent or has restricted parents from invading his or her room either directly or indirectly (Weinberg, 2009). According to Miller, the nature of relationship is the determinant factor. If the relationship is the traditional relationship where a child regardless of age lives according to the parents rule as long as he or she lives in their house, then the parent can give consent. However if the relationship is landlord-tenant where the adult child pays rent to the parents then the parent cannot give consent unless the child has given them freedom to access his room and closed containers. Finally if the relationship is like room paying roommates, where the parents and child share the rent, the parents have no consent whatsoever.
Miller, J.C. (2010). Criminal Justice. Columbia Southern University Library, 24(4):34-37
Weinberg, M. (2009). The Fourteenth Amendment due Process Right of Companionship between a Parent and His or Her Adult Child. New England Law Review, 271: 43