Can my housekeeper consent to a search of my home?

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Broken or even stolen items are typically the extent of home owners’ concerns about their housekeepers. But replacing a vacuum cleaner might be the least of concerns for someone whose servant has let the police inside to snoop around.

Usually, however, any consent that housekeepers give the police to search a home is invalid. For example, in an Illinois case the appellate court upheld a ruling suppressing evidence police found in a home after the housekeeper gave them the green light. The court agreed that because the officers knew that the housekeeper wasn’t a resident of the home, that she didn’t use the home for her own purposes, and that she had access to it only at the discretion of the homeowner, the search was invalid. (People v. Keith M., 255 Ill. App. 3d 1071 (1993).)

Of course, if the housekeeper lives in the home and authorizes the police to search only those parts of it that he or she has access to, then the search may be valid. In general, the more authority over the home someone like a housekeeper (a live-in babysitter, for example) has, the more likely it is that his or her consent will be valid.

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