United States v. Matlock
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 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. [p165]
(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.