Author Topic: Supreme Court Opens Door To Easier Police Searches  (Read 267 times)

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Offline happyg

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Supreme Court Opens Door To Easier Police Searches
« on: February 26, 2014, 07:02:03 PM »
By Nina Totenberg
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that police may search a home without a warrant if one person who lives there consents, even if another occupant has previously objected. The 6-3 decision would seem to seriously undercut a 2006 high court ruling that barred warrantless searches of a home where the occupants disagreed on giving consent.

In 2006, the justices, by a close vote, ruled that when two occupants of a home disagree about whether to allow police to conduct a warrantless search, the police must defer to the person who objects. But now the court has ruled that when the objecting occupant is no longer there, his objections are no longer valid.

The decision came in the case of Walter Fernandez, suspected in a gang robbery and assault. Police, looking for the robber, entered an apartment house and heard screaming from one apartment. When they knocked on the door, Roxanne Rojas answered.

She appeared to be crying, had a bump on her nose and blood on her shirt. She agreed to let the police search the apartment, but at that point Fernandez stepped from the back of the apartment wearing only boxer shorts. He told police they had no right to search the apartment; he was refusing consent.

Police, suspecting domestic violence, then arrested Fernandez and took him away. An hour later, they returned, without a warrant, and got Rojas' consent for the search in writing. They found a sawed-off shotgun, ammunition, gang paraphernalia, and clothing that matched the description of the robber's clothes.

Fernandez was subsequently convicted and sentenced to 14 years in prison. He challenged the conviction, contending the evidence against him had been obtained through an illegal police search.

On Tuesday, he lost. Writing for a six-justice majority, Justice Samuel Alito said that while police may not override a home dweller's objections to a warrantless search when the objector is physically there, when he or she is gone, those objections are no longer valid if another occupant consents to the search.

"It's a body blow to the court's prior holding," said Stanford Law professor Jeffrey Fisher, who represented Fernandez in the Supreme Court. "The court's opinion seems to be quite clear that the police can either remove somebody from the premises" by arrest, or some other method, "or simply wait until the person isn't around anymore."

George Washington University law professor Stephen Saltzburg observes that cases of disagreement between home occupants are relatively rare because it's unusual that police find everyone at home when they come to the door. Much, he says, depends on luck. "You have to be lucky enough to be physically present and able to object when the police ask for consent."

Dissenting from Tuesday's ruling were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Writing for them, Ginsburg noted that the court has long required warrants for searches of a home, except in special and very limited circumstances. "Instead of adhering to the warrant requirement" in the Constitution, she said, the court's decision "tells the police they may dodge it."

In his majority opinion, Alito emphasized how the court's ruling respects a woman's autonomy. "Denying someone in Rojas' position the right to allow the police to enter her home would also show disrespect for her independence," he said.

The court's three female justices took particular umbrage, noting that the law clearly allows police to enter a home and remove a suspected abuser, "as happened here."

"The specter of domestic abuse hardly necessitates the diminution of the Fourth Amendment rights at stake here," they said.

Offline happyg

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Re: Supreme Court Opens Door To Easier Police Searches
« Reply #1 on: February 26, 2014, 07:58:19 PM »
Justices rule for police over searches in shared residences
By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer

The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday a police search of a residence was proper even though a tenant who had objected was no longer on the premises.

The 6-3 decision adds to the court's lengthy jurisprudence over search and seizure cases, where the sanctity of one's home has been given special constitutional protection.

Here, the justices concluded consent of a search "was provided by an abused woman well after her male partner had been removed from the apartment they shared."

The ruling means the state conviction of a criminal defendant has been upheld.

The case involves an incident that occurred nearly four years ago in Los Angeles.

Walter Fernandez was suspected of a gang-related violent robbery. Police were alerted and officers observed a man entering an apartment building, followed by screaming and fighting coming from one unit.

The officers knocked on the door and were greeted by Roxanne Rojas, holding a baby and crying. She appeared to have been beaten, with bruises on her face, and blood on her clothing. Rojas' four-year-old son was also present.

Police asked Rojas to step outside so they could conduct a "protective sweep" of the apartment. Fernandez then emerged from a room and objected, according to court records, saying, "You don't have any right to come in here. I know my rights."

Authorities suspected Fernandez had assaulted his girlfriend, and was promptly arrested. The victim of the separate robbery also identified Fernandez on the scene as his attacker, and the defendant was taken to jail.

An hour later, officers returned and asked to search the premises. Rojas agreed and drug paraphernalia, a knife, clothing allegedly worn by the robbery suspect, ammunition, and a sawed-off shotgun were recovered.

Fernandez was later convicted and sentenced to 14 years behind bars. He then appealed, saying the search was improper and that any evidence seized should have been suppressed at trial.

But the high court ultimately dismissed his appeal.

The Fourth Amendment guarantees "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, an no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause."

Offline Oceander

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Re: Supreme Court Opens Door To Easier Police Searches
« Reply #2 on: February 26, 2014, 07:58:56 PM »
That was a stupid thing for Alito to say.

As a general proposition, it cannot be the case that once someone refuses to consent to a search, that refusal bars anyone else from ever giving valid consent until the end of time.  I do not think one can vaccinate one's house that way.  Furthermore, as a general matter, someone who allows someone else to share something with them - such as a gym bag - that first person assumes the risk that the second person will consent to a police search.

Therefore, it seems that the 2006 case, holding that a refusal by one inhabitant trumps the contemporaneous consent of another inhabitant, should be limited to situations that share that same factual basis, and shouldn't be extended beyond that.

In other words, even if initially Person A refuses to consent even though Person B does consent - at which point Person A's refusal trumps Person B's consent - if Person A then leaves the premises he has assumed the risk that Person B will subsequently consent to a second request by the cops to search.

The only real issue I can see here, that doesn't seem to have been adequately addressed, is whether the cops can manufacture such a situation by conveniently arresting the objector, taking him away, and then asking the remaining person for consent.  It seems to me that there should have been some sort of break, temporal, etc, between the initial request for permission and the second request - something that changed the situation in a meaningful way.  Otherwise, cops - who make a high art form out of acting in bad faith - will simply arrest the objector on wholly false charges - disorderly conduct would be an easy one - take him (or her) away for processing - at which point they will "realize" that they made a mistake and let him go - and in the meantime will have made an immediate second request for permission, which is likely to be given.

It seems to me that in a case like this, the Court should have held that the search violated the accused's rights because at that point they could have easily asked the other person if there was anything in the house that might justify getting a warrant and could have then obtained a warrant.  In fact, under these facts, the cops could probably have gotten a warrant to search for weapons that might have been used in the domestic violence - the cops only need to present facts that support with particularity the reasonable suspicion that the thing sought is at the place to be searched, and since victims of domestic violence will often clam up for fear the abuser may attack them again later, even if the victim here had said he used no weapons to assault here that would not necessarily prove that no such weapons actually existed.

The Court made the wrong decision here.

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