415 U.S. 164 (1974), 72-1355, United States v. Matlock

Docket Nº:No. 72-1355
Citation:415 U.S. 164, 94 S.Ct. 988, 39 L.Ed.2d 242
Party Name:United States v. Matlock
Case Date:February 20, 1974
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 164

415 U.S. 164 (1974)

94 S.Ct. 988, 39 L.Ed.2d 242

United States



No. 72-1355

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 20, 1974

Argued December 10-11, 1973




Respondent was arrested in the front yard of a house in which he lived along with a Mrs. Graff (daughter of the lessees) and others. The arresting officers, who did not ask him which room he occupied or whether he would consent to a search, were then admitted to the house by Mrs. Graff and, with her consent but without a warrant, searched the house, including a bedroom, which Mrs. Graff told them was jointly occupied by respondent and herself, and in a closet of which the officers found and seized money. Respondent was indicted for bank robbery, and moved to suppress the seized money as evidence. The District Court held that, where consent by a third [94 S.Ct. 990] person is relied upon as justification for a search, the Government must show, inter alia, not only that it reasonably appeared to the officers that the person had authority to consent, but also that the person had actual authority to permit the search, and that the Government had not satisfactorily proved that Mrs. Graff had such authority. Although Mrs. Graff's statements to the officers that she and respondent occupied the same bedroom were deemed admissible to prove the officers' good faith belief, they were held to be inadmissible extrajudicial statements to prove the truth of the facts therein averred, and the same was held to be true of statements by both Mrs. Graff and respondent that they were married, which was not the case. The Court of Appeals affirmed.


1. When the prosecution seeks to justify a warrantless search by proof of voluntary consent, it is not limited to proof that consent was given by the defendant, but may show that permission to search was obtained from a third party who possessed common authority over or other sufficient relationship to the premises or effects sought to be inspected. Pp. 169-172.

2. It was error to exclude from evidence at the suppression hearings Mrs. Graff's out-of-court statements respecting the joint occupancy of the bedroom, as well as the evidence that both respondent and Mrs. Graff had represented themselves as husband and wife. Pp. 172-177.

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(a) There is no automatic rule against receiving hearsay evidence in suppression hearings (where the trial court itself can accord such evidence such weight as it deems desirable), and under the circumstances here, where the District Court as satisfied that Mrs. Graff's out-of-court statements had, in fact, been made and nothing in the record raised doubts about their truthfulness, there was no apparent reason to exclude the declarations in the course of resolving the issues raised at the suppression hearings. Pp. 172-176.

(b) Mrs. Graff's statements were against her penal interest, since extramarital cohabitation is a state crime. Thus, they carried their own indicia of reliability and should have been admitted as evidence at the suppression hearings, even if they would not have been admissible at respondent's trial. Pp. 176-177.

3. Although, given the admissibility of the excluded statements, the Government apparently sustained its burden of proof as to Mrs. Graff's authority to consent to the search, the District Court should reconsider the sufficiency of the evidence in light of this Court's opinion. Pp. 177-178.

476 F.2d 1083, reversed and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 178. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 188.

WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

In Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218 (1973), the Court reaffirmed the principle that the search of property, without warrant and without probable cause,

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but with proper consent voluntarily given, is valid under the Fourth Amendment. The question now before us is whether the evidence presented by the United States with respect to the voluntary consent of a third party to search the living quarters of the respondent was legally sufficient to render the seized materials admissible in evidence at the respondent's criminal trial.


Respondent Matlock was indicted in February, 1971, for the robbery of a federally insured bank in Wisconsin, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2113. A week later, [94 S.Ct. 991] he filed a motion to suppress evidence seized by law enforcement officers from a home in the town of Pardeeville, Wisconsin, in which he had been living. Suppression hearings followed. As found by the District Court, the fact were that respondent was arrested in the yard in front of the Pardeeville home on November 12, 1970. The home was leased from the owner by Mr. and Mrs. Marshall. Living in the home were Mrs. Marshall, several of her children, including her daughter, Mrs. Gayle Graff, Gayle's three-year-old son, and respondent. Although the officers were aware at the time of the arrest that respondent lived in the house, they did not ask him which room he occupied or whether he would consent to a search. Three of the arresting officers went to the door of the house and were admitted by Mrs. Graff, who was dressed in a robe and was holding her son in her arms. The officers told her they were looking for money and a gun, and asked if they could search the house. Although denied by Mrs. Graff at the suppression hearings, it was found that she consented voluntarily to the search of the house, including the east bedroom on the second floor which she said was jointly occupied by Matlock and herself. The east bedroom was searches, and the evidence at issue here, $4,995 in cash, was found in a diaper

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bag in the only closet in the room.1 The issue came to be whether Mrs. Graff's relationship to the east bedroom was sufficient to make her consent to the search valid against respondent Matlock.

The District Court ruled that, before the seized evidence could be admitted at trial, the Government had to prove, first, that it reasonably appeared to the searching officers, "just prior to the search, that facts exist which will render the consenter's consent binding on the putative defendant," and, second, that, "just prior to the search, facts do exist which render the consenter's consent binding on the putative defendant." There was no requirement that express permission from respondent to Mrs. Graff to allow the officers to search be shown; it was sufficient to show her authority to consent in her own right by reason of her relationship to the premises. The first requirement was held satisfied because of respondent's presence in the yard of the house at the time of his arrest, because of Gayle Graff's residence in the house for some time and her presence in the house just prior to the search, and because of her statement to the officers that she and the respondent occupied the east bedroom.2

The District Court concluded, however, that the Government had failed to satisfy the second requirement and

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had not satisfactorily proved Mrs. Graff's actual authority to consent to the search. To arrive at this result, the District Court held that, although Gayle Graff's statements to the officers that she and the respondent occupied the east bedroom were admissible to prove the good faith belief of the officers, they were nevertheless extrajudicial statements inadmissible to prove the truth of the facts therein averred. The same was true of Mrs. Graff's additional statements to the officers later on November 12 that she and the respondent had been sleeping together in the east bedroom regularly, including the early morning of November 12, and that she and respondent shared the use of a dresser in the room. There was also testimony that both Gayle Graff and respondent, [94 S.Ct. 992] at various times and places and to various persons, had made statements that they were wife and husband. These statements were deemed inadmissible to prove that respondent and Gayle Graff were married, which they were not, or that they were sleeping together as a husband and wife might be expected to do. Having excluded these declarations, the District Court then concluded that the remaining evidence was insufficient to prove

to a reasonable certainty, by the greater weight of the credible evidence, that, at the time of the search, and for some period of reasonable length theretofore, Gayle Graff and the defendant were living together in the east bedroom.

The remaining evidence, briefly stated, was that Mrs. Graff and respondent had lived together in a one-bedroom apartment in Florida from April to August, 1970; that they lived at the Marshall home in Pardeeville from August to November 12, 1970; that they were several times seen going up or down stairs in the house together; and that the east bedroom, which respondent was shown to have rented from Mr. and Mrs. Marshall, contained evidence that it was also lived in by

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a man and a woman.3 The District Court thought these items of evidence created an "inference" or at least a "mild inference" that respondent and Gayle Graff at times slept together in the east bedroom, but it deemed them insufficient to satisfy the Government's burden of proof. The District Court also rejected the Government's claim that it was required to prove only that, at the time of the search, the officers could reasonably have concluded that Gayle Graff's relationship to the east bedroom was sufficient to make her consent binding on respondent.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the District Court in all respects. 476 F.2d 1083. We granted certiorari, 412 U.S. 917, and now reverse the Court of Appeals.



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