U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Consent Search Based on Co-Occupant’s Consent
On Tuesday, February 25, 2014, the United State Supreme Court issued a decision concerning consent searches that some may view as deviating from past precedent. In
Fernandez v. California, 571 U.S. __ (2014), the Court addressed whether a co-occupant of a residence could supply valid consent to search the residence after an initial occupant denied consent to search and was removed from the residence pursuant to a valid arrest. The general facts of the case are as follows. Police observed a robbery suspect run into an apartment building. After knocking on the door, the suspect’s live-in girlfriend, Roxanne Rojas, answered the door and advised that the suspect was not inside. While speaking with Ms. Rojas, police observed fresh swelling and bleeding in her facial area. They asked Ms. Rojas to step out of the apartment so that they could conduct a protective sweep. At that time, the suspect, Walter Fernandez, appeared and advised police they were not permitted to enter. Mr. Fernandez was arrested based on a the belief that he had assaulted Ms. Rojas. Subsequent to his arrest, police took Mr. Fernandez to the robbery victim’s location. The victim identified Mr. Fernandez as the perpetrator.
Approximately one hour after arresting Mr. Fernandez, the police returned to the apartment and asked Ms. Rojas for consent to search the residence. Ms. Rojas supplied both verbal and written consent to search. During the search, police discovered a knife used in the robbery, clothing worn by Mr. Fernandez during the robbery, ammunition and an illegal shotgun. Mr. Fernandez sought to suppress all of the evidence recovered during the search. His primary contention was that Ms. Rojas’s consent was insufficient to permit a warrantless search due to his initial refusal to allow the police to enter.
The Court held that because Mr. Fernandez was not present at the time that the police obtained consent to search the premises, Ms. Rojas’s consent was sufficient to permit a warrantless search. The fact that Mr. Fernandez had been removed from the situation by the police was not deemed to be controlling. Relying on past precedent, the Court deemed the search valid based on Ms. Rojas having the authority to supply valid consent as a co-occupant of the residence and Mr. Fernandez not being present at the time.
As the Fernandez case exemplifies, the validity of a search is often dependent on the nuances of a given situation. Therefore, it is critical to obtain an experienced defense attorney to review your criminal case. To ensure that your constitutional rights are protected, it is essential to have a knowledgeable, aggressive and experienced lawyer working on your behalf. For a free consultation concerning your case, contact the attorneys at Clemons Richter & Reiss.