Consent by Parents

by Charles Gillingham

Often officers make contact with the parents of children and wish to get consent from the parents to search property belonging to the child. When may an officer receive valid consent from a parent?

Whether a child is an adult or a minor is often the determining factor in a consent scenario.


Adult Children

Generally speaking if the suspect is an adult living with the parent, the parents' authority is greatly reduced. If the child has a landlord-tenant arrangement with the parents, the parents may not have the ability to consent. Ask questions of the parents:

• Does the child is pay rent?
• Does the child have a lock on the door?
• Do the parents have access to the room?
• Is there an agreement that the parents will not enter the room without the child's permission?

If the answer to any of these questions is "yes", the odds are that parental consent will not be valid. There was a case of a 19 year-old man who wanted to blow up a community college. He had a bolt lock on his door and the parents testified they had not been in his room in years. That is a situation where the parent's consent may not be valid because their son lived in their house like a tenant.

If the relationship is not a landlord-tenant arrangement, parents would generally have the ability to consent to the locations that are shared. Be careful of cell phones and computers that the parents either do not access or do not control. Irrespective of who purchased or paid for the computer or phone, if the parents do not have the ability to access the mobile device they may be unable to legally consent to your search.

Minor Children

Parents have the right to consent to search everything belonging to a minor child. The minor does not even have the right to object.