25 February 2014

Law in Plain English: Fernandez v. California

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogFernandez v. California

Argument: Nov 13 2013 (Aud.)

Background: Police responded to an apartment where there was a report of an assault with a deadly weapon by members of a gang. Police heard screaming from an apartment, and knocked on the door. A bruised woman answered the door and told the police she had been in a fight. When police tried to conduct a sweep of the apartment, Fernandez stepped forward and denied entry to the police. He was then arrested. Police went back to the woman and asked for the woman's consent to search, which she gave. The police found weapons that tied Fernandez to the gang. He was tried and convicted of robbery, assault, and the use of a weapon in connection with gang activity. The Court of Appeal of California ( Second District) affirmed, and the Supreme Court of California denied review. Under a previous Supreme Court case, a physically present co-occupant's stated refusal to permit entry renders warrantless entry and search unreasonable and invalid as to him.

Issue: The question before the Court is whether, a defendant must be personally present and objecting when police officers ask a co-tenant for consent to conduct a warrantless search or whether a defendant’s previously stated objection, while physically present, to a warrantless search is a continuing assertion of 4th Amendment rights which cannot be overridden by a co-tenant.

Holding: In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Randolph does not extend to this situation, where the woman's consent was provided well after petitioner had been removed from the apartment. In other words, a defendant must be personally present and objecting when police officers ask a co-tenant for consent to conduct a warrantless search. That Fernandez was absent because he was arrested does not matter because the police had probable cause to arrest him (and he conceded as much).
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