Last Updated:July 28 @ 08:15 am

Supreme Court expands police authority in home searches

By Los Angeles Times

Supreme Court JusticesWASHINGTON -- Police officers may enter and search a home without a warrant as long as one occupant consents, even if another resident has previously objected, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in a Los Angeles case.

The 6-3 ruling, triggered by a Los Angeles Police Department arrest in 2009, gives authorities more leeway to search homes without obtaining a warrant, even when there is no emergency.

The majority, led by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., said police need not take the time to get a magistrate's approval before entering a home in such cases. But dissenters, led by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, warned that the decision would erode protections against warrantless home searches. The court had previously held that such protections were at the "very core" of the 4th Amendment and its ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

The case began when LAPD officers responded to reports of a street robbery near Venice Boulevard and Magnolia Avenue. They pursued a suspect to an apartment building, heard shouting inside a unit and knocked on the door. Roxanne Rojas opened the door, but her boyfriend, Walter Fernandez, told officers they could not enter without a warrant.

"You don't have any right to come in here. I know my rights," Fernandez shouted from inside the apartment, according to court records.

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Fernandez was arrested in connection with the street robbery and taken away. An hour later, police returned and searched his apartment, this time with Rojas' consent. They found a shotgun and gang-related material.

In Tuesday's decision, the high court said Fernandez did not have the right to prevent the search of his apartment once he was gone and Rojas had consented.

In the past, the court has frowned upon most searches of residences except in the case of an emergency or if the police had a warrant from a judge.

But Alito said police were free to search when they get the consent of the only occupant on site.

"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."

He also said Rojas, who appeared to have been beaten when police first arrived, should have her own right to consent to a search. "Denying someone in Rojas' position the right to allow the police to enter her home would also show disrespect for her independence," Alito wrote for the court.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined Ginsburg in dissent and faulted the court for retreating from the warrant rule.

"Instead of adhering to the warrant requirement, today's decision tells the police they may dodge it," Ginsburg said.

She noted that in 2006, the court had ruled in a Georgia case that a husband standing in the doorway could block police from searching his home, even if his estranged wife consented. In Tuesday's opinion, the majority said that rule applied only when the co-owner was "physically present" to object.

The voting lineup seemed to track the court's ideological divide and its gender split, with male and female justices taking opposite sides. The six men -- Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Stephen G. Breyer, Anthony M. Kennedy and Alito -- voted to uphold Rojas' consent to the search. The court's three women would have honored Fernandez's objection.

Fernandez was later convicted for his role in the street robbery and sentenced to 14 years in prison. After the California Supreme Court upheld his conviction, he appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the search of his apartment.


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  1. inluminatuoComment by inluminatuo
    February 26, 2014 @ 11:55 am

    Strange it is that the three Liberal female women on the court sided with the offending male criminal and against the co-operating honest female occupant who knew well the violent history of the male offender. Just what is it about Liberal women that they seek out, associate with, and side with violent criminal men. Are they looking to redeem their lost actual abandoning offending violent past father figures or what? Someone explain this one to me? Why are such confused emotionally damaged women put into postions to judge and damage a once great nation?

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    • oldsargeComment by oldsarge
      February 26, 2014 @ 2:36 pm

      They are just lap dogs doing what their master Obama tells them.

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    • usafoldsargeComment by usafoldsarge
      February 26, 2014 @ 7:38 pm

      Have to disagree with the “enlightened one” on this. This from the mouth of Alito: “”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.” The fourth amendment is not intended to make it easy for searches/seizures, with or with out a warrant. Ignore the Hernandez name for a moment- a person denied them permission to search, they then arrested that person for suspicion, hauled him off and came back an hour later- still without a warrant and asked the “occupant” for permission to search. No definition of what “occupant” means, now, with this decision, the neighbor across the hall could be termed an “occupant”…. The nine, which includes one or two so-called conservatives have just abrogated the 4th amendment, because a warrant has to be “specific” quote ” particularly describing the place to be searched, and the person or things to be seized”.. With so-called “occupant consent” to search, there are no limits as to what can be searched or what can be seized…….. Read Ginsberg’s opinion again, she is right- the court has opened Pandora’s box and given the police one more way to by-pass the Constitution. They don’t have to “tell it to the judge” anymore- just exercise “reasonable suspicion”, and they decide what is “reasonable suspicion”… No thanks…….

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    • pistol packing mamaComment by txgoatlady
      February 27, 2014 @ 12:01 pm

      I seldom find myself agreeing with Ginsburg, but I don’t see how obtaining a warrant would be an undue burden in this case. Can’t you see this being used against legal gun owners in states where officials are anti-second amendment? Being used by a spouse involved in a nasty divorce case? I also disagree with Oldsarge on this case. I think Obama relishes the idea of “no warrant needed.”

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  2. kinghq1Comment by kinghq1
    February 26, 2014 @ 1:20 pm

    It has ALWAYS been this way. I remember when I was a teen and was accused of stealing some items, the police came and asked my Dad if they could search. He told them that they could search my room only. They had no warrant. This was almost 30 years ago.

    If you give consent you are giving away your Rights. The nice thing is that you can withdraw your consent, BUT by that time typically the damage is already done.

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    • Haywood JablomieComment by Haywood Jablomie
      February 26, 2014 @ 2:30 pm

      Exactly! This decision did not “expand” anything. It merely rejected an attempt to LIMIT the authority of police.

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    • davebnmComment by davebnm
      February 26, 2014 @ 3:41 pm

      You were a “teen” living in your parents’ home. He had the authority to allow the police to search, not the other way around. If you consented and your dad said “no,” the cops leave.

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  3. SnowyComment by Lena
    February 26, 2014 @ 1:26 pm

    I have lived a long time and for almost all of my life I would have readily granted a police officer the right to search my home or my car. After all, I had nothing to hide.

    I still have nothing to hide, but today I would never consider agreeing to a search or to questioning without an attorney present.

    Government has done nothing to deserve my trust and they have done everything to make me know that I should protect myself from them.

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  4. southernpatriotComment by southernpatriot
    February 26, 2014 @ 1:52 pm

    Personal and private rights and liberties seem to gradually be compromised and relinquished in the Patriot Act and others since to increase the power of the police state and reduce the rights of law abiding citizens.

    Police now can break down front doors and terrorize the occupants of a house, only to find out they have the wrong house. Police can hand cuff and throw down young people jogging along a road and arrest them for jaywalking when they don’t have identification, yet you don’t need ID to vote, but you need ID to jog?

    Local police departments and law enforcement are purchasing surplus military assault equipment for what? It seems to be giving them the idea that citizens are the enemy, when we are paying their salaries.

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    • rokkyComment by rokky
      February 26, 2014 @ 3:37 pm

      Welcome to the new America southernpatroit.
      It’s just going to worse because all people do is complain and don’t make an effort to stand up and be counted.

      How many who post their complaints on this website actually get involved either through local politics or going to their voting places on a regular basis?

      Just look around and you can see the deterioration of a once great country.
      Very sad for the generations that follow.

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    • mikkimsgComment by mikkimsg
      February 26, 2014 @ 7:08 pm

      We also pay all the elected officials’ salaries and what do we get? We get more taxes, more laws passed without those officials understanding or even reading those laws, and for all that we get fewer and fewer rights. That is unless you are a member of a group who is louder than everyone else and willing to do whatever to get what you want. It used to be people came to America to have freedom. Not anymore. We have a dictator in power with his precious puppets who do his bidding. There oughta be a law against that!

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  5. rickosheaComment by rickoshea
    February 26, 2014 @ 2:26 pm

    So now it’s “come outside kid I need to talk to you.”

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  6. Haywood JablomieComment by Haywood Jablomie
    February 26, 2014 @ 2:29 pm

    The left wing Los Angeles Times is full of it. This decision did NOT “expand police authority in searching homes”, it rejected an attempt to LIMIT it.

    In situations such as this, police have ALWAYS been able to enter a residence. This ******* defendant’s lawyers were hoping to get that ability changed in order to spring their client. The Court rejected the ploy.

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    • usafoldsargeComment by usafoldsarge
      February 26, 2014 @ 7:47 pm

      Read my reply posted to illumantuo- it has always been limited, since 15 Dec.1791.. it is very clear……

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  7. cxComment by genesal
    February 26, 2014 @ 2:36 pm

    This is why our gov’t is far outspending Americans on rounds of ammunition including ‘ZombieMax’ sniper rounds!

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  8. patron71Comment by patron71
    February 26, 2014 @ 3:24 pm

    Gee, When does the supreme court get their Swastikas for their robes, My mistake, I’m sure they will be awarded the home made little striped flag that OBUMA flew to get elected. None of the idiots who put him in office ever wondered why he did not fly the American Flag. Maybe they will figure it out now!

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  9. jmortensenComment by jmortensen
    February 26, 2014 @ 3:35 pm

    Pretty obvious they are opening up an advantage for a police state .. you know this will be abused, as the police love to abuse our rights ..

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  10. davebnmComment by davebnm
    February 26, 2014 @ 3:47 pm

    Step hard on the 1st Amendment, delete the 2nd, and wipe out the 4th. Now the Bill of Rights has 7 Amendments? What the……?

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  11. SickUpandFedComment by sickupandfed
    February 26, 2014 @ 4:12 pm

    Folks, Mayberry RFD was an idealistic fantasy. Actually it did exist in the fifties but now is just a relic of the past. Andy & Barney are dead. Our justice system today is nowhere near what we envision it to be.

    The police are not your friends. Remember that!

    Don’t talk & don’t consent to searches. EVER! If they want to question you or search your car or house, make them justify it by getting a warrant and have a lawyer present before answering anything but your name.

    Now according to this ruling, we all need to be sure that anyone authorized to be in our houses during our absence understands that there are to be no searches without a warrant.

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    • pistol packing mamaComment by txgoatlady
      February 27, 2014 @ 12:04 pm

      Exactly! The police are not working for your best interest.

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  12. 1936benzComment by 1936benz
    February 26, 2014 @ 5:04 pm

    Another nail in the coffin of this failed experiment. As Voltaire said, “I would rather be ruled by a lion, than by two hundred rats of my own species.” We are now being ruled by a pack of rats in Congress and the gang of “master-rats” in the so-called Supreme Court.

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  13. letmethinkComment by letmethink
    February 26, 2014 @ 5:07 pm

    A resident is not necessarily the tenant.
    Only the tenant is legally in charge of the property.
    A resident stays at the whim of the tenant.
    A resident can refuse a search but not accept one for areas not theirs.
    The court and cops are leaving themselves for some real problems.

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  14. freedomfighterComment by freedomfighter
    February 27, 2014 @ 4:00 am

    OHHHHH Yeaaah,
    That has to be Constitutional, right?. After all, it is the SCOTUS mission to protect the Citizenry, using the Constitution as their guidelines for their decisions.

    Do they even consult the Constitution when making their rulings, or do they just run it by Nobama, to see what he wishes them to do?.

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  15. chuckybComment by chuckyb
    February 27, 2014 @ 11:51 am

    I normally would be all for letting the cops have more power but, this ruling is wide open for abuse. All the cops have to do now is throw you in the back of a car and drive you around the block and then intimidate the he! out of whoever is left (your kids/wife). What’s next, if your dog nods his head up and down they’ll say one of the residents gave consent.

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  16. ictheliteComment by icthelite
    February 27, 2014 @ 4:33 pm

    I would think that this would come down as to who has a legal right to grant consent. If the person in the house saying yeah come on in isn’t a co-owner [named on the deed of sale] or named on a lease agreement I don’t see where they have a right to grant anything to anybody concerning property in a dwelling.

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  17. kaimynas67Comment by kaimynas67
    March 5, 2014 @ 7:32 am

    We either have a “Right” against illegal search and seizure – or we don’t.
    Once LEO’s enter your domicile they can confiscate/plant at will.
    We have enough of a “police state” already.
    For example Connecticut police thugs bang on your doors demanding entrance because they suspect that you may have an un-Consitutionally banned assault rifle or magazine on the premises. And “you” never had so much as a speeding ticket?
    REGISTRATION leads to CONFISCATION leads to interment in a FEMA(Gulag) camp.
    Like I said – Hello “police state” !

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