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9.14 Particular Rights—Fourth Amendment—Unreasonable Search—Exception to Warrant Requirement—Consent

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In general, a search of a [person] [residence] [vehicle] [property] is unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment if the search is not authorized by a search warrant. [A "search warrant" is a written order signed by a judge that permits a law enforcement officer to search a particular person, place, or thing.] Under an exception to this rule, a search warrant is not required and a search is reasonable if [the person] [a person in lawful possession of the area to be searched] knowingly and voluntarily consents to the search [and there is not any express refusal to consent by another person who is physically present and also in lawful possession of the area to be searched].

In determining whether a consent to search is voluntary, consider all of the circumstances, including:

[whether the consenting person was in custody;]

[whether officers’ guns were drawn;]

[whether the consenting person was told he or she had the right to refuse a request to search;]

[whether the consenting person was told he or she was free to leave;]

[whether Miranda warnings were given;]

[whether the consenting person was told a search warrant could be obtained;]

[any other circumstances applicable to the particular case].

In order to prove the search in this case was unreasonable, the plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that this exception to the warrant requirement does not apply.


Use this instruction only in conjunction with the applicable elements instructions, Instructions 9.3–9.8 and in conjunction with Instruction 9.11 (Particular Rights—Fourth Amendment —Unreasonable Search—Generally)

There is a split of authority among the circuits concerning which party in a § 1983 civil action has the burden to prove the factual basis for an exception to the general rule that a warrantless search is unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. However, the Ninth Circuit has concluded that a plaintiff alleging a § 1983 claim based on an unreasonable search in violation of the Fourth Amendment has the burden to prove an asserted exception to the warrant requirement did not apply. Larez v. Holcomb, 16 F.3d 1513, 1517-18 (9th Cir.1994); see also Pavao v. Pagay, 307 F.3d 915, 919 (9th Cir.2002) (reaffirming that plaintiff in § 1983 action "carries the ultimate burden of establishing each element of his or her claim, including lack of consent [to search]"). Thus, this instruction frames the burden of proof accordingly.

It is a well-settled exception to the warrant requirement that an "individual may waive his Fourth Amendment rights by giving voluntary and intelligent consent to a warrantless search of his person, property, or premises." United States v. Cormier, 220 F.3d 1103, 1112 (9th Cir.2000); see also Ohio v. Robinette, 519 U.S. 33, 40 (1996). Whether a consent to search was voluntarily given is a question of fact and "to be determined from the totality of all the circumstances." United States v. Brown, 563 F.3d 410, 415 (9th Cir.2009) (quoting Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 222 (1973)). The Ninth Circuit considers five factors in determining voluntariness, which have been incorporated into the above instruction. See, e.g., Liberal v. Estrada, 632 F.3d 1064 (9th Cir.2011) (applying five-factor test for voluntariness in § 1983 case). "No one factor is determinative in the equation[,] and "[b]ecause each factual situation surrounding consent to a search is unique," a court may also take into account other relevant factors. Brown, 563 F.3d at 1082 (internal citation omitted). Accordingly, this instruction includes alternative factors for the jury to consider in determining voluntariness. See id. at 1082.   

In Georgia v. Randolph, 547 U.S. 103 (2006), the Supreme Court reiterated this rule: "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." Id. at 106. The Court, however, also held that, as between a wife’s consent to a search of the family residence and her husband’s refusal to consent, "a physically present co-occupant’s stated refusal to permit entry prevails, rendering the warrantless search unreasonable and invalid as to him." Id. The Ninth Circuit has also determined that after police have obtained consent from one party, they do not have an affirmative duty to seek out a co-tenant in order to inquire if there is an objection. See Brown, 563 F.3d at 416 (finding voluntary consent from co-occupant of residence when defendant had been arrested pursuant to valid arrest warrant and placed in squad car prior to consent discussion with co-occupant).

The Supreme Court clarified that an occupant who initially objects, but is later removed by police, is not physically present for the purposes of Georgia v. Randolph when reasonable grounds existed for such removal or when probable cause existed for the arrest of the objecting occupant. Fernandez v. California, 134 S. Ct. 1126 (2014) (emphasis added) (upholding warrantless search of apartment when consent later obtained from co-occupant after objecting occupant arrested on suspicion of assaulting co-occupant).

Under certain circumstances, a third party may have actual or apparent authority to give consent to the search of another’s property. United States v. Davis, 332 F.3d 1163, 1169 (9th Cir.2003). See United States v. Ruiz, 428 F.3d 877, 879 (9th Cir.2005) (citing United States v. Dearing, 9 F.3d 1428, 1429-30 (9th Cir.1993) (stating three-part test to determine apparent authority of third person). When authority to consent is factually disputed, it may be necessary to instruct the jury on these standards.

In the context of an airport security screening, consent to search can be implied from the circumstances. United States v. Aukai, 440 F.3d 1168, 1179 (9th Cir.2006)