United States v. King, 604 F.3d 125 (3rd Cir. 2010) deals with the Georgia v. Randolph rule. King conditionally pled guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania to interstate transportation to engage in sex with a minor. King appealed based on a variety of alleged legal errors. The relevant issue for discussion here was an allegation that the seizure of his computer hard drive violated the Fourth Amendment.
The issue before the Court was whether the holding in Georgia v. Randolph, 547 U.S. 103 (2006), “that a present and objecting resident can override another resident’s consent to search a home, applies to the seizure of a computer.” The court held that Georgia v. Randolph rule does not apply to personalty. The computer in this case was lawfully seized. (2-1 vote; concurring opinion would have justified the search only on the exigency exception and not created a new rule for personalty). Finding this an issue of first impression, the court looked to two key Supreme Court cases about third party consent. In United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164 (1974), the Court held that a person with “common authority” can grant consent to search the property of another, because the owner “assumed the risk” that the third party would do so. Matlock, 415 U.S. at 170-71. The King court noted that Matlock dealt with “premises or effects,” but did not address a present and objecting coowner. In Randolph, the Court did address a present and objecting coowner. Randolph held that a physically present co-tenant could override the consent of another co-tenant to search a shared home. Although the Randolph court did not expressly say so, the King court interpreted the opinion to apply only to real property.
The King court pointed out that the Randolph dissent examined almost the identical set of facts as this case and said someone who shares a computer “give[s] up his privacy” with respect to the other person. The Randolph majority never expressly rebutted this assertion by the dissent, and the concurring opinion only joined the majority after limiting the holding to the specific facts of that case. “In sum, our reading [of the entire Randolph opinion] leads us to conclude that the rule of law established in Randolph does not extend beyond the home.” (p. 137).
A petition for certiorari in this case was filed with the Supreme Court on August 26, 2010.