Supreme Court sets national precedent in Americus case - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Supreme Court sets national precedent in Americus case

March 22, 2006

Albany - The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that police, without a warrant, cannot search a home when one resident says it's okay but another says it's not.

In 2001, police were called to a domestic disturbance at the home of Americus attorney Scott Randolph and his wife, Janet. Scott Randolph refused to give police consent to search the home, but Mrs. Randolph told them they could.

When police searched, they found evidence of illegal drugs and arrested Scott Randolph. He appealed, and the Georgia Supreme Court ruled in his favor in 2004. But the state took the case to the Supreme Court.

Justices voted five-to-three to uphold the lower court ruling that barred the use of evidence obtained by police who had no search warrant.

The ruling will affect how law enforcement agencies across the nation search homes and property. But Dougherty County Sheriff's investigators say it deals with a specific situation that officers don't come across that often.

But Scott Randolph's former attorney, W.T. Gamble, III, says the ruling helps to protect rights and was worth the long battle. Gamble represented Randolph in his initial drug case in 2001, and he says he immediately thought the search of the Randolph home was illegal.

"Our belief was the Constitution, under the Fourth Amendment, says you can't be searched illegally or without a warrant if you don't give permission. We hadn't given permission, and no one can override that right."

Gamble says the decision will help both sides: the public and law enforcement.

"Law enforcement will know clearly what the rules are, as will an individual. Before, states were ruling both ways on this issue. It was up in the air. Law enforcement really didn't know if they needed to get a warrant or not. Now, they know," said Gamble.

But Dougherty County Sheriff Investigator Lt. Craig Dodd says the ruling isn't clear.

"As the Chief Justice stated, it left us with very little direction," said Lt. Dodd. Dodd says the sheriff's office and other agencies will look to District Attorneys to interpret the Supreme Court ruling and tell officers how to handle certain searches.

"Because they are the ones who will have to prosecute it in court, when we get to court," said Lt. Dodd. Lt. Dodd says this ruling won't stop officers from coming into your home if they feel someone's in danger.

"If we come to a house where a domestic disturbance has been report and ask to see the wife because the husband came to the door and if he says 'No you can't come to my house,' we'll still go in the house and check the wife to see if she's okay and hasn't been injured."

But Justice David Souter, in the Majority, wrote that entering a house amid a dispute is just as illegal as entering without consent. But Chief Justice John Roberts, in his first dissent, argued it's a random ruling that would not protect the rights of a co-inhabitant who happens to be in the backyard when police arrive.

Scott Randolph and his wife are now divorced. He now lives in Atlanta.

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