Can police obtain consent from a co-tenant to conduct a warrantless search a dwelling after another co-tenant, who objected to the search, is lawfully removed?
The Supreme Court said YES in Fernandez v. California. Read more below to see what happened and when the police can search a home without a warrant over a tenant’s objection.
Fernandez v. California (2014) – Police officers observed a suspect in a violent robbery run into an apartment building, and heard screams coming from one of the apartments. The officers knocked on the door and Roxanne Rojas answered. She appeared to be battered and bleeding. When the officers asked Rojas to step out so that they could conduct a search of the apartment, Fernandez came to the door and objected to the search. Suspecting that he had assaulted Rojas, the officers removed Fernandez from the apartment and placed him under arrest. He was later identified as the perpetrator in the earlier robbery and taken to the police station. An officer later returned to the apartment and, after obtaining Rojas’s oral and written consent and searched the premises where he found several items linking petitioner to the robbery.
At trial, Fernandez moved to suppress the evidence seized in the warrantless search. The trial court denied Fernandez’s motion to suppress the evidence, and he was convicted. The California Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction. It held that because Fernandez was not present when Rojas consented to the search, the exception to permissible warrantless consent searches of jointly occupied premises that arises when one of the occupants present objects to the search, Georgia v. Randolph, did not apply, and therefore, Fernandez’s suppression motion had been properly denied.
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that police officers may enter and search a home without a warrant as long as one occupant consents, even if another resident has previously objected. Here, the Court said that Fernandez did not have a right to prevent the search of his apartment once Rojas had consented. Although an officer usually needs a warrant from a judge to search a home, home searches are legal whenever the officers are able to obtain consent from an occupant. According to the Court, “A warrantless consent search is reasonable and thus consistent with the 4th Amendment irrespective of the availability of a warrant.” Furthermore, “Denying someone in Rojas’ position the right to allow the police to enter her home would show disrespect for her independence.” The judgment of the Court of Appeals was affirmed.