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Supreme Court Expands Consent Search and Seizure in a California Case

Posted by Seth Chazin | Feb 28, 2014 | 0 Comments

A recent Supreme Court decision now allows police officers to conduct the search of a home without a warrant as long as one occupant gives consent, even though another resident may have already objected. The 6-3 ruling was initiated by a Los Angeles Police Department arrest in 2009. The ruling now makes it easier for the police to search homes without having to obtain a warrant, even when there is no real urgency to conduct the search.

The case that this ruling was based on began in Los Angeles when LAPD responded to reports of a street robbery. They followed a suspect to an apartment, heard concerning noises inside the apartment and knocked on the door. Roxanne Rojas opened the door, but her boyfriend Walter Fernandez did not give consent to the officers to enter because he knew they needed a warrant.

Fernandez was taken into custody in connection with the street robbery (CA Penal Code 211 ). An hour later, police returned and searched the apartment, this time with his girlfriend's consent. They found a shot gun and gang-related material.

Justice Alito, who led the majority, wrote that the police need not take the time to get a magistrate's approval before entering a home in such instances. The dissenting justices warned that the decision would hinder protections against warrantless home searches. The court had previously ruled that such protections were at the “very core” of the 4th Amendment . The court decided that Fernandez did not have the right to prevent the search of his apartment once he was arrested and Rojas had consented. Previously, the court frowned upon most searches of private residences except in the case of an emergency or if the police had a warrant from a judge. Since the police got consent in this case, the court held that they were free to search the apartment.

Alito stated, "A warrantless consent search is reasonable and thus consistent with the 4th Amendment irrespective of the availability of a warrant," he said in Fernandez vs. California. "  Even with modern technological advances, the warrant procedure imposes burdens on the officers who wish to search [and] the magistrate who must review the warrant application."

Interestingly, the three women justices dissented; they would have honored Fernandez's objection and would have required a warrant, while the six male justices on the court upheld Rojas' consent to search.

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About the Author

Seth Chazin

Seth P. Chazin has aggressively defended clients in thousands of felony and misdemeanor cases for over 30 years. He has extensive experience representing criminal defendants in federal and state court, while handling both state and federal appeals as well.


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