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Supreme Court Upholds Warrantless Apartment Search

February 26th, 2014 Comments Off on Supreme Court Upholds Warrantless Apartment Search

The U.S. Supreme Court, in Fernandez v. California, has upheld the warrantless search of an apartment when the suspect objected, but his girlfriend (and co-occupant) consented to the search after the suspect was arrested.

The court made an exception to its prior decision in Georgia v. Randolph, which held police cannot search a home when one person who lives there objects and the other consents.

Factual Summary

Police officers observed a suspect in a violent robbery run into an apartment building, and then heard screams coming from an apartment. Police go to the apartment and knocked on the door.

A woman who appears to have been assaulted (blood on her shirt and a bump on her nose), Roxanne Rojas, opens the door.

Walter Fernandez then also comes to the door and told police they had no right to enter.

Suspecting that Fernandez had assaulted Rojas, police arrested him.

The robbery victim then identified Fernandez as his attacker and Fernandez was taken to the police station for booking.

About an hour later, Rojas consented to a search of the apartment.

Majority’s Opinion

Justice Alito wrote the majority opinion.

Putting the exception the court adopted in Randolph to one side “the lawful occupant of a house or apartment should have the right to invite the police to enter the dwelling and conduct a search. Any other rule would trample on the rights of the occupant who is willing to consent.”

The occupant may want the search to quell suspicion, or to remove dangerous contraband.

“Denying someone in Rojas’ position the right to allow the police to enter her home would also show disrespect for her independence…”

“Having beaten Rojas, petitioner would bar her from controlling access to her own home until such time as he chose to relent. The Fourth Amendment does not give him that power.”

Dissenting Opinion

Justice Ginsburg wrote a dissent (joined by Justices Sotomayor and Kagan.)

Instead of adhering to the warrant requirement “today’s decision tells the police they may dodge it, nevermind ample time to secure the approval of a neutral magistrate.”

The decision “shrinks to petite size our holding in Georgia v. Randolph.”

Click here for the entire decision.

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