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Co-occupant’s consent to search of the defendant’s bedroom was valid

Jose Luis Morales appealed his conviction and 15 year sentence for one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1). He was arrested after Miami Dade Police Officers conducted a search of the home where Morales lived and found a Rossi .38 caliber revolver and a .22 caliber pistol in the closet of Morales’ bedroom. Morales lived in the house with his girlfriend, their two children, and his girlfriend’s mother. The search took place after the police approached the house while investigating drug activity in the area. Their focus was drawn to Morales and while Morales was outside of his house speaking with officers another officer approached the house and spoke to the Morales’s girlfriend’s mother. She gave consent to a search of the house and a K-9 alerted to the area of the closet in Morales’s bedroom where the firearms were found.

On his appeal Morales argued the Miami federal court erred in denying his motion to suppress the evidence seized in the search of his bedroom, claiming that the mother’s consent was not voluntary. He also argued that even if her consent was voluntary, his Fourth Amendment rights were violated because he was a physically present co-occupant who was intentionally denied an opportunity to refuse entry to the officers and to refuse their request to search.

The court of appeals disagreed with Morales’s first argument that the girlfriend’s mother’s consent was involuntary. The evidence showed she understood she had the right to refuse consent and gave verbal consent. The written consent was translated into Spanish before she signed. Nevertheless, Morales insisted that he was physically present co-occupant was intentionally denied an opportunity to refuse the officers’ entry and search.

The court rejected his second argument. Even though the officers did not ask Morales, who was detained nearby, whether he consented to the search. It was not rendered illegal because Morales did not object. The court found no evidence to indicate that the officers removed Morales from the entrance so that he could not refuse consent to search. She appeared to the officers to have authority to give consent. She said she lived in the house and had access o the entire house, including Morales’ bedroom. She said that she went in there to clean the room and take care of the kids, so it was reasonable for the officers to believe that she had enough common authority over the house, including Morales’ bedroom, to give consent.

Morales also challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction, arguing that the government did not present enough evidence to corroborate his confession. Specifically, he argued the government failed to present evidence he had actual, sole, constructive, or joint possession of the guns. The rejected this claim finding that corroborating evidence was present and along with the confession was enough for the jury to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Finally, Morales Miami federal criminal defense attorney challenged his sentence as a violation of the Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. That argument failed because the court found that a longer sentence may be imposed on a recidivist based on his criminal history, even if the offenses of conviction is relatively minor.