Supreme Court Expands Police Power to Search Homes Without Warrant

(Photo: Reuters)NYPD officers.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that police officers may now enter and search a home without a warrant if one occupant of the home has given consent after an objecting occupant leaves the premises.

Even if another resident of the home had previously objected to the warrantless entry, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 Tuesday that police officers can still proceed, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

The decision, Fernandez vs. California, stemmed from a 2009 Los Angeles Police Department arrest. The Court expanded the powers of police officers to search homes without the need for a warrant even if there is no emergency.

In the 2009 case police followed screams and sounds of fighting to an apartment doorstep, according to the Wall Street Journal. The officers were reportedly met by a crying woman, followed by a man, Walter Fernandez, who told them: "You don't have any right to come in here. I know my rights."

Mr. Fernandez was arrested and taken to the police station by the officers. They later returned to the apartment and searched it with the woman's permission. Inside, they discovered weapons and gang paraphernalia, as well as clothing linked to a robbery. The find resulted in Fernandez's conviction on robbery and domestic violence and other charges.

"Unreasonable searches and seizures" are prohibited by the Fourth Amendment and police are normally required to have a warrant before they search private property. The Supreme Court ruled in 1974, however, that police can search a property with the consent of only one resident of the property while others are absent. The high court later ruled in 2006 that if two people answer the door, police cannot enter in the absence of a warrant or emergency if one objects. Tuesday's ruling clarified the circumstances under which police officers can enter a home without a warrant.

Justice Alito, who led the majority, noted that once the objecting resident of a home leaves the premises police are seeking to enter, the objection expires.

Could a suspect "register an objection in advance? Could this be done by posting a sign in front of the house? Could a standing objection be registered by serving notice on the chief of police?" he wrote.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer sided with Alito.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented and was joined by justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. "Instead of adhering to the warrant requirement, today's decision tells police they may dodge it," Ginsburg wrote.

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