It is widely known that the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits police from searching a person’s home without a warrant. What many people do not realize, however, is that there are many exceptions to this general rule. For example, if a person consents to the police searching his home, they may do so without a warrant. But what happens when one person living in a home consents to the police presence and another objects?
Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in Fernandez v. California, in which the Court upheld a warrantless search conducted by police under unique circumstances. Specifically, the suspect at the time objected to the search, but his girlfriend, who also lived in their apartment, provided her consent after the suspect’s arrest.
The police in Fernandez were investigating a robbery in which a man was seriously injured. Witnesses told police that the man who had committed the crime lived in an apartment building located nearby. When police entered the building, they heard a woman scream in one of the units. They knocked on the door to investigate and Roxanne Rojas came to the door. They noted that Rojas had bruises on her face and blood on her shirt. Immediately afterward, Walter Fernandez came to the door and told police that they did not have his permission to enter.
Police suspected that Fernandez had been attacking Rojas and they arrested him. Later on, the victim of the robbery confirmed that Fernandez was the person who had attacked him. After Fernandez was taken to the police station for processing, Rojas provided her consent for police to search their apartment, where investigators found weapons that were used in the robbery.
The Court upheld the search in Fernandez by a 6-3 vote. In doing so, the Court distinguished their decision from Georgia v. Randolph, a 2006 case that rejected the notion that police could search a home without a warrant when one resident objects and another consents. One of the main sticking points in Fernandez was evidence that Fernandez had been beating Rojas prior to the arrival of police at their apartment. In the majority’s opinion, applying their decision in Randolph to this case would have allowed Fernandez to continue hurting Rojas in order to deny her the right to control access to her own home.
For now, it remains unclear whether the Court’s decision in Fernandez impacts the basic holding of Randolph.