Fernandez v. California: Ruling Makes It Easier for Police to Search Your Home
Since returning from break, the U.S. Supreme Court justices have been hard at work. One of its most recent criminal decisions may impact the ability of the police to search your house, particularly if you don’t live alone.
In Fernandez v. California, the Supreme Court limited its prior holding in Georgia v. Randolph, which held that an objecting occupant could overrule the consent of a co-occupant. The Court’s latest ruling clarifies that the prior decision “was limited to situations in which the objecting occupant is present.”
The Facts of the Case
After observing a violent robbery, police followed a fleeing suspect into an apartment building. Upon hearing screams coming from one of the apartments, the officers knocked on the apartment door. Roxanne Rojas answered the door and appeared to be battered and bleeding. When the officers asked her to step out of the apartment so that they could conduct a protective sweep, Fernandez appeared and objected to the search. Suspecting that he had assaulted Rojas, the officers placed Fernandez under arrest and removed him from the apartment. It was later confirmed that he was also the perpetrator of the robbery.
When police returned to the apartment, Rojas provided oral and written consent to the search, which revealed evidence that Fernandez committed the robbery. The trial court denied Fernandez’s motion to suppress that evidence, and he was convicted. The California Court of Appeal affirmed the decision on the basis that Fernandez was not present when Rojas consented to the search.
The Supreme Court’s Decision
The majority of the U.S. Supreme Court agreed. By a vote of 6–3, the Court ruled that police can enter a home based on the consent of only one occupant, provided that the objecting co-occupant is no longer present and has ben removed for fair reasons, which include arrest.
Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito explained that allowing an occupant to object without being physically present would cause a plethora of problems.
“Could a suspect “register an objection in advance? Could this be done by posting a sign in front of the house? Could a standing objection be registered by serving notice on the chief of police?” he wrote.
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan strongly dissented. “Instead of adhering to the warrant requirement” in the Constitution, Justice Ginsburg wrote, the court’s decision “tells the police they may dodge it.”
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- Establishment ClauseFree Exercise Clause
- Freedom of Speech
- Freedoms of Press
- Freedom of Assembly, and Petitition
- The Right to Bear Arms
- Unreasonable Searches and Seizures
- Due Process
- Eminent Domain
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Preamble to the Bill of Rights
Congress of the United States begun and held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine.
THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.