Supreme Court ruling eases police search of suspect's home

WASHINGTON Tue Feb 25, 2014 12:58pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court on Tuesday handed a victory to law enforcement agencies by making it easier for police to search a dwelling without a warrant.

The court held on a 6-3 vote that police can search a home without a warrant, even if the suspect has objected, as long as he is no longer on the scene and a co-tenant gives consent.

It made no difference that the suspect, Walter Fernandez, had earlier objected to the police entering the apartment before police took him outside, the court concluded.

The ruling was a loss for Fernandez, who had wanted evidence found during the search, including firearms and gang paraphernalia, to be suppressed as a violation of the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Fernandez appealed after he was sentenced to 14 years in prison for several offenses, including a robbery that prompted the police search. He sought the Supreme Court review after a California appeals court dismissed his claims.

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said the written consent form signed by the apartment co-tenant, Roxanne Rojas, made the search legitimate. If the court had not ruled for the government, lawful occupants would be prevented from inviting the police into their homes to conduct searches in similar situations, Alito said.

"Any other rule would trample on the rights of the occupant who is willing to consent," he added.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan all dissented.

Writing on their behalf, Ginsburg said that by focusing on Rojas' consent, the court gave police an incentive to avoid asking a judge for a search warrant in similar situations.

The case is Fernandez v. California, U.S. Supreme Court, 12-7822.

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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Comments (3)
gregbrew56 wrote:
This very narrow ruling didn’t really change anything. Consent to enter was given. Why it went all the way to the SCOTUS is a mystery.


Feb 25, 2014 1:13pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Mylena wrote:
Good and bad news. Good in really suspected houses. Bad, in houses occupied for honest people that ‘s nothing to do with crime.

Feb 25, 2014 2:38pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Okay, it’s official! Now “co-tennants” (of any type) are on legal notice to ALWAYS avoid any personal problems by not opening the door, unless they are 100% sure that it is “safe” to do so (never), never to speak through the door – versus calling 911; and certainly never to arbitrarily grant permission for a search – apparently, the benefit of being a responsible citizen went out with the last century.

This ruling essentially produced something on the order of “Residential Miranda Rights.”

No doubt many attorneys will be advising people to post a prominent “Notice to Law Enforcement” on their doors, stating that: “Fearing the now commonplace abuse of police power; and upon acvice of Legal Counsel, …. .”

Oh, yes, there will be recommended canned “official statements:”

1. “My roomate doesn’t trust the police & told me that he’d make me hate myself, if I ever opened the door for any policeman – and I’m sure that he’d seriously hurt me or kill me, if he knew I did.”

2. “Hey, I was listening to music through my earphones; I didn’t notice anyone beating on the door. If the place had been on fire; I’d probably be dead right now – great music, ya know?”

3. “When I NEED to talk to police; they first call me on the phone – or after I call 911! Otherwise, it’s ‘Miranda City.’ Anyway, I’m still totally confused; what’s going on, again?”

Feb 25, 2014 4:35pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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