Few Washington homeowners would be brave enough to question the authority of the police to enter their home when the police come with an arrest warrant to search for a family member who used to live in the house. As the Grateful Dead once sang in “Truckin”:
“But if you got a warrant, I guess you’re gonna come in.” This case illustrates the need for a warning to homeowners from the police that the homeowner has the right to refuse consent to the police entry for a search. The Washington Supreme Court, however, declined to require the police to do this.
A 8-1 majority of the Washington State Supreme Court reversed a conviction for manufacture of marijuana, ruling the search warrant was invalid in State v. Ruem, decided on November 27, 2013.
The police came to the home of Mr. Ruem armed with an arrest warrant (not a search warrant) for his brother, although their earlier attempts to watch the house for the brother’s presence strongly suggested the brother no longer lived there.
Ruem was not advised by the police of his right to refuse entry to the house, and initially agreed to the police entry. Although he attempted to retract his initial consent, the police entered the house, and found evidence of a marijuana grow operation. Ruem was later prosecuted for felony drug charges. The brother for whom the police were ostensibly searching had moved to California weeks or months before, although a car registered to him was still parked nearby.
The court split on the crucial issue: Should the police be required to give warnings to a homeowner, similar to the Miranda warnings, that the homeowner may refuse to consent to the police entry into the house? A plurality of four justices, led by Justice Stephens, said there was no need for such a bright line rule, preferring to decide this type of case on its own facts. Justice Wiggins wrote a concurring opinion, joined by three justices, who would have required the police to give advance warnings to homeowners, in order to protect their constitutional interest in privacy under the Washington State Constitution.
Eight of the members of the court agreed that the conviction should be reversed, because there was not enough evidence that Ruem had either validly consented to the police entry, and because there was no probable cause to believe that Ruem’s brother, the target of the arrest warrant, would be at the house at the time of the search.
For more information about your constitutional rights as a homeowner, feel free to contact the Law Office of Mark Muenster.
Here is a link to the court’s decision: