Private search doctrine doesn’t allow repairman to consent to police search

State v. Eisfeldt, Washington Supreme Court, Docket No. 79947-4, issued June 5, 2008

A repairman was called by a homeowner to repair a diesel spill in the home’s living room. A key was left under the mat for the repairman. The repairman went to the attached garage to ventilate the fumes, noticed sealant around the garage door, and broke the sealant to gain entry to the garage. He noticed what he believed was evidence of a marijuana grow operation, became suspicious, and contacted the police. He showed detective the diesel spill in the living room and the suspicious items in the garage. The detectives stopped the search and obtained a search warrant for the home. The police found what they believed was evidence of a marijuana grow operation.

Three weeks later, the police obtained a warrant based on the evidence seized to search for a marijuana grow operation in a second residence in a nearby city. Police found evidence of a marijuana grow operation in the second residence. The defendants sought suppression of the evidence found at the second residence.

The Washington Supreme Court held that under Article I, section 7 of the Washington State Constitution, the private search doctrine does not apply. The Court found that the repairman lacked actual authority to consent to the search of the first house and that all evidence gained as a result of the searches of the first and second house was unlawfully seized.