Make sure you're on good terms with your roommate or spouse — the Supreme Court now says just one occupant of a home can give consent to searches without a warrant, even if an individual has previously objected.
The nation's highest court ruled 6-3 in favor of law enforcement Tuesday in Fernandez v. California, which stemmed from a 2009 arrest and search in connection with a robbery in Los Angeles. Simply put, a girlfriend gave law enforcement access to her apartment after her boyfriend initially refused the search. But after the man was arrested and police returned to the apartment, the woman consented.
The decision gives authorities more leeway to search homes without obtaining a warrant, even when there is no emergency.
The 2009 case began when LAPD officers responded to reports of a street robbery; they pursued a suspect from the scene to an apartment building, then heard shouting inside a unit and knocked on the door. Roxanne Rojas — the girlfriend — opened the door, but Walter Fernandez, told officers they could not enter without a warrant. The Los Angeles Times reported:
"You don't have any right to come in here. I know my rights," Fernandez shouted from inside the apartment, according to court records.
Fernandez was arrested in connection with the street robbery and taken away. An hour later, police returned and searched his apartment, this time with Rojas' consent. They found a shotgun and gang-related material.
Tuesday's decision upheld the LAPD’s actions. Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion: “A warrantless consent search is reasonable and thus consistent with the Fourth Amendment irrespective of the availability of a warrant." Moreover, he added, “Denying someone in Rojas’ position the right to allow the police to enter her home would also show disrespect for her independence.”
In the past, the court has frowned upon most searches of residences except in the case of an emergency or if the police had a warrant from a judge.
In 2006, the Supreme Court came down against the police in the case of Georgia v. Randolph. After a domestic violence investigation, the male suspect refused to let the police search his home while his wife welcomed the search. The police went in.
In the case eight years ago, the Supreme Court ruled the man’s refusal should have stopped the cops in their tracks. “A physically present inhabitant’s express refusal of consent to a police search [of his home] is dispositive as to him, regardless of the consent of a fellow occupant,” the court said.
Writing in dissent of Tuesday's decision was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, who accused the majority of weakening the Fourth Amendment and granting the police too much latitude, according to Reason.com:
“Instead of adhering to the warrant requirement,” Ginsburg wrote, “today’s decision tells the police they may dodge it, nevermind ample time to secure the approval of a neutral magistrate.” This ruling, she charged, “shrinks to petite size our holding in Georgia v. Randolph.”
(H/T: Tech Dirt)
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