Criminal Procedure, Pages 258–265

Fernandez v. California

Supreme Court of the United States, 2014

Facts:

Petitioner saw Lopez cash a check and then approached, warned him he was in the Drifters gang territory, and pointed a knife at him. After cutting cut on the wrist, Lopez ran and called 911, but petitioner had four men come out of a nearby apartment to attack and rob Lopez.

Police arrived afterwards and a man told them "the guy is in the apartment." The officers saw a man run into the apartment and heard sounds of screaming and fighting come out a minute or two later. Police knocked on the door the screams were coming from, and Rojas answered the door. She was holding a baby, crying, and had a red face, a bump on her nose, and fresh blood on her shirt. She said she had been fighting but that only her 4-year-old son was in the apartment at the time.

Petitioner then came out to the door and said police had no right to go inside. He was arrested for assaulting Rojas, and police then received consent from Rojas to search the apartment an hour later. Police found gang paraphernalia, a butterfly knife, clothing worn by the robbery suspect, bullets, and a sawed-off shotgun.

Issue:

Is a warrantless search valid under the Fourth Amendment when consented to by one occupant but refused by another who is no longer physically present?

Reasoning:

The ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is "reasonableness." It would not be reasonable to require a warrant when the sole occupant of a house consented to a search. It is his right to allow police onto his property, regardless of whether probable cause exists. This is also valid when one occupant consents to the search of a house where multiple people live. However, there is an exception to the consent exception when there is another occupant physically present who refuses the search.

Here, petitioner was not present at the time consent was given to the search. Although he was only not present because the police arrested him, his arrest was objectively justified. Inquiries into the subjective intent of the officers have been repeatedly rejected. While petitioner also objected while he was present, to extend that into his absence would present many problems, such as how long that would bind a co-tenant, how long an objector still had "common authority," whether an objection would have to be made while either police or the occupant were present, and whether police unaware of the objection would be bound.

Requiring a warrant in these cases would burden police, magistrates, and consenting parties, and "unjustifiably interfer[e] with legitimate law enforcement strategies." It would also trample the consenting occupant's rights to allow access to his own home.

Rule/Holding:

A warrantless search is valid under the Fourth Amendment when consented to by a occupant if no non-consenting residents are physically present.

Concurring Opinions:

  • Scalia: While this is a faithful application of Randolph, Randolph was wrongly decided. Also, nothing establishes that property law would consider it a trespass to enter someone's property when one occupant invites him to enter and another forbids it.

  • Thomas: While this is a faithful application of Randolph, Randolph was wrongly decided. No Fourth Amendment search was present in that case.

Dissenting Opinion:

Ginsburg: This is straightforward application of Randolph. The circumstances here are just as important to require a warrant. There was scant danger that would preclude getting a warrant, and one hour is plenty of time to do so.

Petitioner had been present and stated his objection. This would not have stopped police forever like the majority theorizes; they would just have to get a warrant, which they could have done. How short a withdrawal from the door is enough to permit a search based on another's consent?

Warrantless entries of people's houses are unreasonable per se, and the consent requirement should only be a narrow exception to this rule. The Constitution is supposed to protect us from police. If Rojas was really in danger by petitioner, exigent circumstances would have permitted police to enter and remove him. Domestic abuse does not justify diminishing the Fourth Amendment rights present here.

Dropbox – Your stuff, anywhere – Try it free