The Court of Appeals of Nevada reviewed a case named Lastine v. State, which was filed on August 30, 2018. The appellant is Andrew Robert Allen Lastine, and the defendant will be represented by the state of Nevada. Under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution and Article I, Section 18 of the Nevada Constitution, searches without a warrant are unreasonable, with the exception of a few circumstances. One of these exceptions is the consent of a third party who had power or authority over the property to be searched.
Lastine v. State presents a concern about this exception: How does a person’s living arrangement within a third party’s property affect that third party’s legal power to consent to a search of another person’s living space? Another question is, can police officers actually rely on the consent of a third party to search a room on a resident’s property without asking about the specific living arrangements within that residence?
The appeals court concludes that police officers cannot completely justify a warrantless search of a room inside a residence by referring to the consent of a third party when the third party didn’t actually have the authority to give consent and the officers had little to no information about the third party’s authority over the room.
On January 7, 2016, Gertrude Green’s car was rear-ended by a truck while she was waiting at a traffic light. She sustained a severe whiplash injury from the incident. The truck driver then drove away after hitting Green’s vehicle. Green and one witness told first responders they thought the driver was a man.
A Nevada Highway Patrol trooper found a license plate among the debris on the road after the accident. After running the plate, the trooper concluded the plate belonged to a truck registered to Andrew Lastine. Washow County Sheriff’s Deputy Francisco Gamboa drove to Lastine’s residence. When Gamboa arrived, he noticed a truck with significant damage in the driveway, and that the license plate matched the one found at the accident scene.
With these observations, Gamboa began a “knock and talk” investigation. Robert Lastine answered the door, and Gamboa identified himself after Robert stepped outside. The deputy informed Robert about the Green accident and the license plate found at the scene, which matched Robert’s truck plate. Robert informed Gamboa that his nephew, Andrew Lastine, owned the truck, and that Andrew was probably “in the back bedroom” of the house. Gamboa asked for permission to enter the house to “find the owner of the truck,” and Robert said “go get him.”
Deputy Gamboa waited for backup, Deputy Obos, to arrive before entering the house. He made no attempt to secure a telephonic search warrant or discuss the physical condition of Lastine while he waited. When Obos arrived, both he and Gamboa entered the house, and Robert led them to the bedroom door where he suggested Lastine resided in. They announced “police, sheriff’s office” with no response. After no response, the deputies pushed the door open. They found Lastine in the dark in his bed under a blanket. They placed Lastine in handcuffs and removed him from his bedroom.
Lastine was charged with one count of leaving the scene of an accident that involved a personal injury. Lastine moved to suppress the proof gathered as a result of Gamboa and Obos’s warrantless entry into his room, as well as Trooper Howald’s warrantless entry into his vehicle when she arrived at the scene to arrest Lastine and check the truck for evidence. The district court denied most of this motion, and granted only his request to suppress the fact that the keys Howald found in his pocket opened and started the truck. At the jury trial, the jury found Lastine guilty of leaving the scene of an accident involving personal injury, and he was sentenced to serve three to ten years in prison.
On appeal, Lastine disputes that the district court was wrong in denying his motion to suppress, and specifically he argues that Robert did not have any real authority to consent to a search of his bedroom because the bedroom “was not a commonly shared area.” In conclusion, he argued that there was no way to justify the deputies’ warrantless entry into his room.
The burden of establishing and determining the actual or apparent authority of a third party’s consent in this situation belongs with the State. The appeals court first analyzes if Robert had actual authority to consent to a search of Lastine’s bedroom. The appeals court disagrees with the State’s counter argument that because Robert owned and lived in the house, he had actual authority to consent to a search of any room within that house. The appeals court concluded that the State failed to meet its burden to prove that Robert had actual authority to consent to the search.
As far as apparent authority, the State argues that Robert did have apparent authority to authorize the search, even if he did not have actual authority. The appeals court agrees with Lastine’s counter-argument, which is that the deputies did not have enough facts to justify the search based on the doctrine of apparent authority.
During appeal, the State argued that the emergency doctrine justified the entry into Lastine’s bedroom, as Gamboa was concerned for Lastine’s physical condition. However, the facts of the accident do not reveal a reasonable basis to believe that Lastine was in imminent physical danger. The deputies also did not attempt to ask Lastine if he was injured before entering the room.
In conclusion, the appeals court agreed that police officers can conduct a warrantless search if a third party with common authority over an area consents to the search, and this is lawful if the third party had actual authority. This was not the case in Lastine v. State, and so the appeals court reverses the judgment of conviction and remands with instructions to grant Lastine’s motion and suppress all evidence as a result of the illegal entry.
Nationally recognized litigation attorney Thomas Metier practice areas include traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, trucking accidents and motor vehicle accidents. He is licensed to practice in Colorado, Wyoming, the U.S. District Court–District of Colorado, and the U.S. District Court–District of Wyoming, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.