Los Angeles Robbery leads Supreme Court to reconsider Police Search Laws

Posted by Chris Morales on Wed, May 22, 2013 @ 12:58 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court took up a California case (Fernandez v California 12-7822) on Monday, May 20th in order to decide if police have the right to enter and search a home, over the objections of a suspect who lives in the home, by arresting him and obtaining the roommate’s consent for the entry.

In 2006, the justices ruled that the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches prevents police, in non-emergencies from entering a home without a warrant even if the resident objects and another resident consents. However, lower courts have been divided on whether the rejection allows officers to enter the home in the future if the individual is not present. In order to solve the issue, the court granted review on an appeal by a Los Angeles man, convicted of a gang-related robbery after police searched his apartment without a warrant.

According to court records, police officials who were investigating a robbery and assault in a gang neighborhood entered Walter Fernandez’s apartment after hearing sounds of screaming and fighting. A woman came to the door showing signs of injuries officials then proceeded to enter when Fernandez stepped forward and stopped officials by stating that they do not have a right to enter his home. Officials then arrested Fernandez and secured the apartment by telling the woman that Fernandez was a robbery suspect. Once entering the home, with the consent of the woman officials found gang paraphernalia, a knife and a gun, which was later used in court against him.

Fernandez, was also identified by the robbery victim as the man responsible for stabbing him, and was convicted of robbery and domestic violence in 2010, and sentenced to fourteen years in prison. Ten years of his sentence stemmed from the jury’s finding that the robbery was gang-related, basing it off the evidence that had been found in Fernandez’s apartment. 

In upholding the search, the state’s Second District Court of Appeal held that a resident’s authority to prohibit a warrantless police entry applies only when the resident is present. When Fernandez was taken away he no longer had the power to prevent his cohabitant from admitting the police into the apartment they shared. Fernandez’s appeal disputed that the police should have gone to a judge in order to get a warrant after they had secured the apartment. Fernandez’s lawyer, Gerald Peters stated on Monday what is the point of the Fourth Amendment if in every case all you have to do is arrest and remove a person if he or she objects from a search. 

Tags: consent, robbery, suspect, Warrant, upholding, warrants, Fourth Amendment