3rd Mar 2014
In yet another split decision, Supreme Court weakens protection against warrantless searches
The United States Supreme Court handed down the Fernandez v. California decision last week, striking yet another blow to the Fourth Amendment. The case involved Walter Fernandez, who refused to consent to search of his apartment. The police then arrested and thereby removed him from the scene. Fernandez had been involved in a robbery and beating, but had returned to the apartment he shared with Roxanne Rojas. Police went to the apartment, looking for Fernandez, and Rojas answered the door. She had bruises and police suspected that Fernandez had hit her.
Police found Fernandez in the apartment and arrested him on domestic violence charges. He objected to his apartment being searched. After police took him away, they obtained consent to the search from Rojas which turned up evidence implicating Fernandez in several crimes. Fernandez argued that his objection to the search–despite his being absent from the location–made the search illegal because he was only absent from the apartment as the result of the police removing him. The government’s position was that an objection from a cohabitant is valid if they are present, but it is irrelevant if they are absent from the location.
The Supreme Court agreed (in a split decision) agreed with the government. The law of the land is now that an objection by a cohabitant is controlling only if they are present. If they are not at the location, for whatever reason, their absence negates any objection. Once again, the Supreme Court has taken another bit out of the Bill of Right’s guarantee that “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…”.