United States Supreme Court Holds Police May Conduct Warrantless Search Of Home Over Objection Of Resident

Last month, the United States Supreme Court issued a controversial opinion in the case of Fernandez v. California, holding that police officers may enter and search an individual’s residence without a warrant and over his or her objection, as long as another occupant of the home gives consent.

In Fernandez, Los Angeles police officers confronted the defendant, Walter Fernandez, who was suspected of involvement in a robbery, at his home. After Fernandez complained to that the officers didn’t have any right to enter his home, they placed him under arrest after observing circumstances that led them to believe he had beaten his girlfriend. After transporting Fernandez to the police station, the officers returned to Fernandez’s home, where his girlfriend allowed them to enter and search the premises. While inside, the officers discovered weapons and other evidence linking Fernandez to the robbery.

Fernandez moved the trial court to suppress the evidence discovered in his home, arguing that the police should have obtained a warrant to conduct the search. A motion to suppress is a request to a judge for an order excluding evidence from being consideration by the judge or jury at trial. Usually, the basis for exclusion arises from a violation by law enforcement of a criminal defendant’s rights under the U.S. or state constitution. The trial court denied the motion and, following a trial, Fernandez was convicted of multiple charges and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

On appeal, the California Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that, because Fernandez was not present when his girlfriend consented to the search, the general rule that police cannot search a home over the objection of a resident did not apply. Fernandez then appealed again to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court agreed with the California Court of Appeal, holding that the police were not required to obtain a warrant for Fernandez’s residence, because the consent of any occupant of a home is sufficient to validate a search. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., argued that “A warrantless consent search is reasonable and thus consistent with the 4th Amendment irrespective of the availability of a warrant.” Alito contended that as a resident of the home, Fernandez’s girlfriend possessed her own right to consent to the search, stating “Denying someone in [her] position the right to allow the police to enter her home would also show disrespect for her independence.”

Dissenting Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan, opined that “the police could readily have obtained a warrant to search the shared residence” and should have done so. Ginsburg opined, “Instead of adhering to the warrant requirement, today’s decision tells the police they may dodge it.”

The criminal defense attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience defending the Constitutional rights of individuals that have been charged with a crime. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.