Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Thomas: Wife's consent to search of a shared computer validates search

In U.S. v. Thomas, No. 14-14680 (April 1, 2016), the Court held that a wife’s consent to the police’s warrantless search or a computer she shared with her husband made the search reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The Court noted that the computer was easily accessible in an unlocked room in the shared residence, the wife had access to the computer and used it on the morning of the search (and discovered images of child pornography, and called the police), and shared the password to access the computer. The Court found it “particularly significant” that the defendant did not protect his Internet history by maintaining a separate login name and password or by encrypting his files. The Court declined to reach whether the defendant’s objection to the search might have mattered, under Georgia v. Randolph, finding that the search here occurred after the wife’s consent and before the husband awoke and objected to the search. The Court held that even if Georgia v. Randolph were extended to require police to awake the sleeping defendant before searching, the search would still have been reasonable under the “independent source doctrine.” Based only on the wife’s telling police about her discovery of child pornography, and the websites visible on the computer, there was a fair probability that child pornography would be found on the computer. The police therefore would have sought a search warrant of the computer regardless of the results of their initial warrantless search of the computer.