Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Pay No Attention to the Meth Lab Behind the Curtain

Woolverton v. State - The police searched a home with the express consent of the owner.  There was disputed testimony as to whether Appellant (a co-tenant) objected to the search.  As warrantless searches tend to go, the police then found a meth lab in the home.  Appellant was convicted of possession and manufacture of methamphetamine and sentenced to 10 and 40 years (to run concurrently). (Note: A conviction for both possession and manufacture violates Double Jeopardy as recently held by the CCA.  See my previous post HERE).

Predictably, Appellant asserted on appeal that the warrantless search of the home violated the 4th Amendment.  Citing Supreme Court precedent from Georgia v. Randolph, 547 U.S. 103 (2006), the 6th District Court of Appeals (Texarkana) recognized:
The Fourth Amendment recognizes a valid warrantless entry and search of premises when police obtain the voluntary consent of an occupant who shares, or is reasonably believed to share, authority over the area in common with a co-occupant who later objects to the use of evidence so obtained.  A third party may give consent to search property over which they have joint access or control.  Where cotenants or joint occupants live at a residence, either tenant may give the law enforcement officer consent to search the premises so long as that tenant has control over and authority to use the premises.
The court also noted, however, that a co-tenant's unambiguous refusal of consent effectively overrules the previous consent of the other co-tenant.  In this case, Appellant testified that she objected to the search and made her objection known to the police officers, while the officer testified that she made no objection at all.  In denying the motion to suppress, the trial court found:
In this case, it comes down to a credibility determination and the Court finds that the testimony of the defendant in this case is not credible and the Court finds that the testimony of the officers is credible, that she did not object, that she was cooperative, that she did not even inform them that she resided there, although I think there was some testimony by one of the officers that he knew that. But she never objected to the search.
The appellate court agreed that the trial court correctly applied the law of search and seizure to the facts of the case, and affirmed the trial court's ruling.
Because the findings of the trial court are based on an evaluation of credibility and demeanor of the witnesses, we defer to those findings as they are supported by the record.