UT: Roommates had apparent authority to consent to search of a room they seldom entered, but they could, and that’s the point

The state had two justifications for the entry. First, the other occupants had the ability to consent to entry into the room even though they didn’t regularly go there. Second, blood on the floor showed exigency. Met v. State, 2016 UT 51, 2016 Utah LEXIS 154 (Nov. 21, 2016):

[*P76] Similar to Brown, the record here indicates that Met’s roommates had common authority over the basement main room. The State presented evidence demonstrating that Met’s roommates actually used the basement main room to store certain personal items, that one of the roommates “used to go down [in the basement] to get” his DVDs, and testimony that Met’s roommates could access the main room without first obtaining Met’s permission. In addition, the basement was not enclosed or set off from the rest of the apartment by a door or in any other way; the basement main room was accessible from the main floor via an open stairway. Met attempts to conflate his roommates’ general lack of need or desire to enter the basement with a lack of authority to enter the basement. Although Met’s roommates may have infrequently accessed the basement main room in the short time Met resided there, there is sufficient evidence to indicate that they had the authority to do so if the need or desire arose. In light of the roommates’ access to the basement main room, they possessed the authority to consent to the search of that area.

. . .

[*P80] We agree with the district court that once the officers saw the blood on the carpet and walls, it was “plainly reasonable” for them to conclude that exigent circumstances justified entering the other basement rooms without first obtaining a warrant. As the district court aptly described, at the time the officers became aware of the blood stains on the basement’s walls and floor, “the agents were not looking for a dead body; they were looking for a missing child that could have been seriously injured.” The blood would have suggested to a reasonable officer that someone, possibly Victim—who at that point had been missing for fewer than thirty-six hours and had disappeared from the apartment complex the officers were searching—had been seriously injured and, if still alive, was likely in need of emergency assistance. Because of the potential need to render emergency assistance, it was objectively reasonable for the agents to enter the basement bathroom, which excuses their failure to obtain a warrant prior to entering.

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