When a drug dealer opens the door to a police informant masquerading as a customer, is he authorizing the police to come in and conduct a search of his home without a warrant? The Supreme Court will answer that question, which has divided lower federal courts, the New York Times reports. Several federal circuits have adopted what has come to be called a consent-once-removed exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. The theory is that a suspect who consents to the entry of an agent of the police is also agreeing to let the police enter as well. The police do not need a warrant to enter and search a home if they have the permission of a person authorized to give it.
The new case is an appeal by five Utah police officers who face paying damages to a man in whose home they conducted a search later found to be unconstitutional. Then-U.S. District Judge Paul Cassell ruled in 2006 that even assuming the search was unconstitutional, the police were entitled to immunity because they could reasonably have believed at the time that the law was on their side. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver reversed the decision, saying the search violated the dealer’s “clearly established” right “to be free in one's home from unreasonable searches and arrests.” The Constitution was so clear on this point, the court said, that a reasonable police officer would have known not to proceed without a warrant.