MN court: No warrant needed to search house for guest

The Minnesota Supreme Court Wednesday ruled that police do not need a search warrant to enter a home a suspect is visiting.

It’s a case I first wrote about a year ago when the Minnesota Court of Appeals reinstated charges against a Meeker County resident after a district court threw out the case against Leona Rose deLottinville because sheriff’s deputies captured her while she was visiting a boyfriend. The lower court had also ruled that evidence seized in the arrest could not be used against her because the warrant for her arrest did not authorize police to search her boyfriend’s apartment.

In upholding that decision Wednesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court said the woman, who was suspected of possessing meth, had no greater expectation of privacy when visiting another home than in her own home. [Updated]

The court noted, however, the U.S. Supreme Court has never directly addressed the issue of whether a guest can assert privacy rights in someone else’s home.

“A guest should not receive any greater Fourth Amendment protection when outside her home than when inside it,” Justice David Lillehaug wrote on behalf of a divided state Supreme Court for the majority, declaring that police have a right to enter a home if there’s a valid arrest warrant for a guest.

“Here, police lawfully obtained an arrest warrant for deLottinville and entered the home knowing that she was there, so their entry did not violate her Fourth Amendment rights,” he wrote (see opinion).

Lillehaug said 10 federal courts have ruled on the question, and nine have agreed with his interpretation.

“We understand that a homeowner might well be surprised and distressed to learn that police may enter at any time to arrest a guest,” he said. “But there is no indication in this case of any such abuse; deLottinville was visible to the officer before he entered the home. And the question of what rights the homeowner may have in such a situation is not before us.”

In a dissent, however, Justice Margaret Chutich said Lillehaug the majority opinion “fails to protect the right of a host from unreasonable governmental intrusion into the sanctity of her home, a right at the ‘very core’ of the Fourth Amendment.”

When a person welcomes someone into a home, she said, the host shares his/her home and his/her privacy.

“The host’s constitutional right to privacy is meaningless if it cannot prevent unwarranted intrusions into the home,” she wrote.

Minnesotans would certainly be surprised to realize that the police can enter their homes at any time with nothing more than an arrest warrant for an overnight guest, or even a short-term social guest. Yet this unreasonable intrusion is the practical result of expanding Payton (U.S. Supreme Court case) to limit the rights of overnight guests.

June 2016: Wait, what? Supreme Court casually guts 4th Amendment (NewsCut)