Case: Fernandez v. California, (2014).
Facts: The parties to the lawsuit are the petitioner Walter Fernandez and the respondent the State of California. The dispute revolved around the Walter Fernandez’s petition to review the decision of the Trial Court that found him guilty. Fernandez was arrested in the first place because the police suspected him of being involved in a gang-related assault. When the officers approached Fernandez’s apartment, they heard sounds of fighting and screaming. When they knocked, Fernandez’s partner, Roxanne Rojas, with clear bruises on her face opened the door. Then Fernandez himself appeared and objected to the presence of the police officers by emphasizing that they had no right to be there. Nevertheless, he was arrested and delivered to the police station. Afterward, the police officers returned and asked Roxanne for her permission to search the apartment. Having received the consent, the officers found incriminating evidence that was later presented in the court. Despite Fernandez’s plea to suppress the evidence due to his objection to the presence of the police, he was deemed guilty. Fernandez proceeded to file petition review to California Supreme Court, which denied it. However, the US Supreme Court agreed to review the case.
Issue: Did the police have the right to search the apartment when the suspect objected to it?
Holding: The answer to the legal question is that the apartment search is lawful if the remaining resident consents. Six justices voted that there was no violation, while three judges dissented. One justice concurred with the holding, while disagreeing about reasoning.
Majority Opinion Reasoning
Rule: A warrantless search is lawful when one of the residents consents, while another resident is absent due to a lawful arrest.
Application: Fernandez was not present when the police officers asked his partner for permission to search the premises. Furthermore, the reason for Roxanne’s consent overriding Fernandez’s objection lies in the assumption that the suspect had abused Roxanne and engaged in a gang-related assault.
Concurring Opinion(s) Reasoning
Justice Thomas concurred with the opinion of the Court, but noted that the majority used a case Georgia v. Randolph (2006). The Justice believed that that reference was not appropriate because that case had had not implicated the Fourth Amendment search. The reason why he brought Georgia v. Randolph up is that it also dealt with an ambiguous situation, when two residents differ in their attitude toward an apartment search with one of them consenting and another one objecting. However, Justice Thomas believed that there was no violation of the Fourth Amendment in either case as the police had a lawful reason to conduct the search. In essence, the only aspect Justice Thomas disagreed about was invoking the Fourth Amendment.
Dissenting Opinion(s) Reasoning
Justice Ginsburg, Justice Sotomayor, and Justice Kagan disagreed with the majority’s opinion due to the Fourth Amendment’s protection of a person’s privacy and application of Georgia v. Randolph. When one of the residents refused to let the police conduct the search, the Court acknowledged the importance of obtaining the consent of all residents. The Justices objected to the Court’s insistence on physical presence of both residents. Furthermore, Fernandez explicitly voiced his objection to the police’s search when he had still been present in the apartment. Subsequently, the dissenting Justices believe that Roxanne’s consent does not override Fernandez’s objection and the police should have waited for a court order to conduct the search.