The police came to your home while you were away. Police asked your roommate if they could search your room, and he said, “Sure, why not?” As a result, police found drugs under your mattress. Now you are under arrest.

Is your roommate’s consent to the search legal?

Under the Fourth Amendment, police may not search your home without a warrant unless they have a valid exception such as consent. Consent may be given by someone with either actual or apparent authority. Your roommate has actual authority to allow the police in to the areas that the roommate rents or occupies. But what about your areas? Does your roommate have the apparent authority required to let the police into your room?

Apparent authority exists if the facts available to an officer at the time of a search would allow a person of reasonable caution to believe that the consenting party had authority over the property to be searched. When the consenting party is your spouse, the law presumes that the spouse has authority to allow a search of all areas in your homestead.

In People v Mojica, the defendant’s wife allowed the police to search his detached garage. The defendant argued that no reasonable officer could believe that his wife had apparent authority where she did not have a key and had not entered the garage for some time. The court rejected defendant’s argument. The wife never told police she was denied access to the garage. The officer could reasonably believe that as a spouse, the wife had authority to enter the garage but rarely choose to do so.

In another Illinois case, the defendant’s girlfriend allowed officers to search his coat in a shared closet. The court held that the officers could reasonably believe that the girlfriend had apparent authority to consent. The closet was not locked or private but held the apartment’s washer and dryer and was accessible to all eight residents of the home. (See People v. Burton, 409 Ill. App. 3d 321, 349 Ill. Dec. 829, 947 N.E.2d 843 (2011).)

Illinois courts have rejected apparent authority where a driver consented to the search of a passenger’s purse or where defendant’s social guest gave the consent. (See People v James and People v. Pickens, 275 Ill. App. 3d 108, 211 Ill. Dec. 823, 655 N.E.2d 1206 (1995).)

If you have been charged with a crime, contact an experienced criminal law attorney immediately. An attorney can review your case for its best possible defense. Perhaps the person consenting to the search did not have authority—either actual or apparent—to do so. If so, an attorney can petition the court to suppress the evidence from the search.

. Even if the police acted properly and the evidence against you is overwhelming, an attorney who is respected in the court house may be able to negotiate a more favorable plea agreement than you could on your own.

If you have questions about this or another related Illinois criminal or traffic matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

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