Although it is virtually undisputed that children have some Fourth Amendment rights independent of their parents, it is equally clear that youth generally receive less constitutional protection than adults. In a search for continuity and coherence in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence involving minors, Professor Henning identifies three guiding principles—context, parental authority, and the minor’s capacity—that weave together children’s rights cases. She argues that parental authority too often prevails over children’s rights, even when context and demonstrated capacity would support affirmation of those rights. Context involves both the physical setting in which Fourth Amendment protections are sought and the nature of the privacy interest at stake. Capacity considers the minors’ maturity and judgment to safeguard their own rights without undue parental authority and direction.
Recognizing third-party consent as a useful lens through which to analyze the Fourth Amendment rights of minors in conflict with their parents, this Article critiques the Supreme Court’s recent dicta in Georgia v. Randolph, which significantly undermines the authority of minors to resist State intrusion into their most intimate space within the family home—often their bedrooms. Notwithstanding the relatively narrow context in which Randolph applies, its dicta has broad implications for the validity of third-party consent in a variety of parent-child scenarios, including parental consent to a police search of computer files, social networking sites, e-mail exchanges, Internet searches, and closed containers or locked spaces belonging to the minor.
As Professor Henning argues, the dicta in Randolph oversimplifies, and maybe even mischaracterizes, the Court’s own analysis of children’s rights in previous cases. As a result, that dicta will continue to distort the analysis by state and federal courts called upon to mediate the rights of children in competition with the rights and duties of their parents. Although parental authority serves a valuable function in society, this Article contends that absolute, unreviewable parental authority is rarely, if ever, necessary. Instead, it advocates for a more faithful and nuanced application of the guiding principles identified by Professor Henning across cases. Considering the psychological importance of privacy to minors, the heightened protection generally afforded to the sanctity of the home, and the societal benefits of preparing mature minors to serve as trustees of their own rights, the State’s interest in preserving parental authority does not provide a sufficiently compelling basis upon which to abrogate the right of a mature minor to refuse State examination of his private space or property.
Kristin Henning, The Fourth Amendment Rights of Children at Home: When Parental Authority Goes Too Far, 53 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 55-109 (2011)
Scholarly Commons Citation
Henning, Kristin N., "The Fourth Amendment Rights of Children at Home: When Parental Authority Goes Too Far" (2011). Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works. 618.