Justices rule for police over searches in shared residences

Posted at 5:08 PM, Feb 25, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-26 21:10:08-05

(CNN) — The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday a police search of a residence was proper even though a tenant who had objected was no longer on the premises.

The 6-3 decision adds to the court’s lengthy jurisprudence over search and seizure cases, where the sanctity of one’s home has been given special constitutional protection.

Here, the justices concluded consent of a search “was provided by an abused woman well after her male partner had been removed from the apartment they shared.”

The ruling means the state conviction of a criminal defendant has been upheld.

The case involves an incident that occurred nearly four years ago in Los Angeles.

Walter Fernandez was suspected of a gang-related violent robbery. Police were alerted and officers observed a man entering an apartment building, followed by screaming and fighting coming from one unit.

The officers knocked on the door and were greeted by Roxanne Rojas, holding a baby and crying. She appeared to have been beaten, with bruises on her face, and blood on her clothing. Rojas’ four-year-old son was also present.

Police asked Rojas to step outside so they could conduct a “protective sweep” of the apartment. Fernandez then emerged from a room and objected, according to court records, saying, “You don’t have any right to come in here. I know my rights.”

Authorities suspected Fernandez had assaulted his girlfriend, and was promptly arrested. The victim of the separate robbery also identified Fernandez on the scene as his attacker, and the defendant was taken to jail.

An hour later, officers returned and asked to search the premises. Rojas agreed and drug paraphernalia, a knife, clothing allegedly worn by the robbery suspect, ammunition, and a sawed-off shotgun were recovered.

Fernandez was later convicted and sentenced to 14 years behind bars. He then appealed, saying the search was improper and that any evidence seized should have been suppressed at trial.

But the high court ultimately dismissed his appeal.

The Fourth Amendment guarantees “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, an no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause.”