U.S. Supreme Court Hearing Georgia Search Warrant and ADA Cases; in the Warrant Case, the Dispute Surrounds What to Do When Two Homeowners Disagree on Granting Permission to Search

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Byline: VICKY ECKENRODE

ATLANTA -- U.S. Supreme Court justices this week are scheduled to hear two Georgia cases that could clarify rules about granting permission for police searches and whether prisoners with disabilities can sue a state government.

In the fall term that started last month, the court has already heard arguments in areas such as physician-assisted suicide laws in Oregon and drug use in religious ceremonies in New Mexico.

Like those cases, decisions in the upcoming Georgia-based challenges could have far-reaching effects beyond the state's borders.

On Tuesday, the justices will hear arguments in Georgia vs. Scott Fitz Randolph, which could ultimately clear up conflicting opinions from lower courts about whose permission police need to conduct a search when they get mixed messages from the homeowners.

In July 2001, Janet Randolph called police to her house in Americus to report a domestic disturbance. When the authorities asked if they could search the house, she gave permission.

Her husband, Scott, also was there and objected to the search.

Police found cocaine residue inside the house, used it to get a search warrant and then found dozens of drug-related items, which led to Scott Randolph's arrest.

His lawyers sought to have the evidence suppressed, claiming the search was illegally conducted and violated his privacy rights.

The Georgia Supreme Court agreed when it issued its decision last year.

"The consent to conduct a warrantless search of a residence given by one occupant is not valid in the face of the refusal of another occupant who is physically present at the scene," Justice Robert Benham wrote in that decision.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled before that the co-owner of a residence can allow the police to enter because that is the risk a partner takes in living with another person. But that decision dealt with permission being given when the defendant is not home at the time of the search.

The Randolph case could provide direction about what police can do if both owners are home but have different responses for a search.

INMATE'S ADA CLAIMS

The day after the Randolph case is heard, the Supreme Court will field arguments from lawyers representing a Georgia inmate who wants to sue the state for claims of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In combined cases, the justices will weigh the limits of state immunity in United States vs. Georgia and Tony Goodman vs. Georgia.

Goodman, who was arrested in 1995 and convicted on aggravated assault and drug charges, said he was denied basic rights at the maximum-security prison in Reidsville.

Now held at the Augusta Medical State Prison, Goodman claims to be a paraplegic and unable to move his wheelchair in his former cell. He also claims to have received numerous injuries because of the prison's lack of handicapped-accessible features.

State corrections officials released a videotape of Goodman from earlier this year that shows him walking on his own. They also say that Georgia's prison system has made upgrades since the Americans with Disabilities Act's passage in 1990.

"Like people in the private sector and other government agencies, we've upgraded our facilities as time has gone on," said Bill Amideo, general counsel for the Georgia Department of Corrections. "We have spent money on ADA compliance for years. We have other inmates with disabilities around the state."

But neither Goodman nor the state has had a chance to argue the merits of the inmate's discrimination claims.

The case got stopped early on, because despite some exceptions, states are immune from lawsuits seeking monetary damages through the 11th Amendment. The amendment limits the jurisdiction of the federal judicial system to exclude any suit initiated by a person against a state government. …