The PA Superior Court recently held that the parent of an adult child who lives in a separate residence did not have apparent authority to consent and allow police to make a warrantless entry into the child’s home.
Troy David Lehnherd was driving his truck and was involved in a crash. He called his parents from the scene of the crash to come pick him up. His parents picked him up and thereafter drove him to his home. They returned to the scene where they spoke with police and confirmed that Lehnherd owned the vehicle involved in the crash. Police proceeded to Lehnherd’s home to continue their investigation. His parents returned to his home as well.
Upon arrival at Lehnherd’s home, the lights were off, and no one answered when police knocked on the door. However, when his parents arrived at the home, his mother told the police that she had dropped him off at home. When asked to do so, she opened the door and let the police into Lehnherd’s home. Police located and removed Lehnherd from the home and subsequently arrested him for DUI and other charges after he failed sobriety tests.
Lehnherd filed a Motion to Suppress the evidence police obtained after entering his home, arguing that the troopers’ warrantless entry into the house and escorting him out of the house constituted an illegal seizure and that his mother did not have the apparent authority to allow police to enter his home.
The trial court denied the Motion and Lehnerd was convicted after a bench trial of DUI, Abandoning Vehicle on a Highway, and Failure to Activate Hazard Lamps. His appeal followed where he argued that the trial court erred and/or abused its discretion by failing to suppress the evidence stemming from the unlawful consent and search of his residence after he had been unlawfully seized.
The Superior Court explained that warrantless entry by law enforcement into a home to look for a suspect is presumptively unreasonable and is constitutionally impermissible absent an applicable exception to the Fourth Amendment’s general requirement that a warrant be obtained.
The Court then recognized that voluntary consent is an exception to the warrant requirement and that warrantless entry and search of a house is constitutionally permissible where an occupant with authority over the premises consents to the entry and search. Additionally, the Court explained that apparent authority to consent to search of a dwelling has been found where the individual is at the dwelling when the officers arrive and tells the officers that he or she lives in or is currently staying at the dwelling.
In the case at hand, the troopers knew that Lehnherd’s mother did not live at the Lehnherd’s home. At the Suppression Hearing, Lehnherd’s mother testified that she did not own or live in the home and that she does not go inside without knocking and being let in. There was no evidence Lehnherd’s mother even had a key to the home, as the troopers testified that she did not use a key to let them inside and she denied that she had a key.
In sum, the Superior Court found that the mere fact that the consenting party was Lehnherd’s mother cannot, in and of itself, create apparent authority.
Accordingly, the Superior Court vacated the DUI conviction and sentence and reversed the order denying suppression, remanding the case for a new trial on the DUI charges.