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Fernandez v. California

United States Supreme Court

February 25, 2014

WALTER FERNANDEZ, PETITIONER
v.
CALIFORNIA

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA FOR THE SECOND APPELLATE DISTRICT

Argued November 13, 2013.

Police officers observed a suspect in a violent robbery run into an apartment building, and heard screams coming from one of the apartments. They knocked on the apartment door, which was answered by Roxanne Rojas, who appeared to be battered and bleeding. When the officers asked her to step out of the apartment so that they could conduct a protective sweep, petitioner came to the door and objected. Suspecting that he had assaulted Rojas, the officers removed petitioner from the apartment and placed him under arrest. He was then identified as the perpetrator in the earlier robbery and taken to the police station. An officer later returned to the apartment and, after obtaining Rojas' oral and written consent, searched the premises, where he found several items linking petitioner to the robbery. The trial court denied petitioner's motion to suppress that evidence, and he was convicted. The California Court of Appeal affirmed. It held that because petitioner was not present when Rojas consented to the search, the exception to permissible warrantless consent searches of jointly occupied premises that arises when one of the occupants present objects to the search, Georgia v. Randolph, 547 U.S. 103, did not apply, and therefore, petitioner's suppression motion had been properly denied.

Held:

Randolph does not extend to this situation, where Rojas' consent was provided well after petitioner had been removed from their apartment. Pp. 5-15.
(a) Consent searches are permissible warrantless searches, Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 228, 231-232, and are clearly reasonable when the consent comes from the sole occupant of the premises. When multiple occupants are involved, the rule extends to the search of the premises or effects of an absent, noncon- senting occupant so long as "the consent of one who possesses common authority over [the] premises or effects" is obtained. United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164, 170. However, when "a physically present inhabitant]" refuses to consent, that refusal "is dispositive as to him, regardless of the consent of a fellow occupant." Randolph, 547 U.S., at 122-123. A controlling factor in Randolph was the objecting occupant's physical presence. See, e.g., id., at 106, 108, 109, 114. Pp. 5-9.
(b)Petitioner contends that, though he was not present when Rojas consented, Randolph nevertheless controls, but neither of his arguments is sound. Pp. 9-14.
(1) He first argues that his absence should not matter since it occurred only because the police had taken him away. Dictum in Randolph suggesting that consent by one occupant might not be sufficient if "there is evidence that the police have removed the potentially objecting tenant from the entrance for the sake of avoiding a possible objection, " 547 U.S., at 121, is best understood to refer to situations in which the removal of the potential objector is not objectively reasonable. Petitioner does not contest the fact that the police had reasonable grounds for his removal or the existence of probable cause for his arrest. He was thus in the same position as an occupant absent for any other reason. Pp. 9-10.
(2) Petitioner also argues that the objection he made while at the threshold remained effective until he changed his mind and withdrew it. This is inconsistent with Randolph in at least two important ways. It cannot be squared with the "widely shared social expectations" or "customary social usage" upon which Randolph's holding was based. 547 U.S., at 111, 121. It also creates the sort of practical complications that Randolph sought to avoid by adopting a "formalisftic]" rule, id., at 121, e.g., requiring that the scope of an objection's duration and the procedures necessary to register a continuing objection be defined. Pp. 10-14.
(c) Petitioner claims that his expansive interpretation of Randolph would not hamper law enforcement because in most cases where officers have probable cause to arrest a physically present objector they also have probable cause to obtain a warrant to search the premises that the objector does not want them to enter. But he misunderstands the constitutional status of consent searches, which are permissible irrespective of the availability of a warrant. Requiring officers to obtain a warrant when a warrantless search is justified may interfere with law enforcement strategies and impose an unmerited burden on the person willing to consent to an immediate search. Pp. 14-15.

208 Cal.App.4th 100, 145 Cal.Rptr.3d 51, affirmed.

ALITO, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Breyer, JJ., joined. Scalia, J., and THOMAS, J., filed concurring opinions. GlNSBURG, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which SOTOMAYOR and KAGAN, JJ., joined.

OPINION

ALITO, JUSTICE.

Our cases firmly establish that police officers may search jointly occupied premises if one of the occupants[1]consents. See United States v. Matlock, 415 U.S. 164 (1974). In Georgia v. Randolph, 547 U.S. 103 (2006), we recognized a narrow exception to this rule, holding that the consent of one occupant is insufficient when another occupant is present and objects to the search. In this case, we consider whether Randolph applies if the objecting occupant is absent when another occupant consents. Our opinion in Randolph took great pains to emphasize that its holding was limited to situations in which the objecting occupant is physically present. We therefore refuse to extend Randolph to the very different situation in this case, where consent was provided by an abused woman well after her male partner had been removed from the apartment they shared.

I

A

The events involved in this case occurred in Los Angeles in October 2009. After observing Abel Lopez cash a check, petitioner Walter Fernandez approached Lopez and asked about the neighborhood in which he lived. When Lopez responded that he was from Mexico, Fernandez laughed and told Lopez that he was in territory ruled by the "D.F.S., " i.e., the "Drifters" gang. App. 4-5. Petitioner then pulled out a knife and pointed it at Lopez' chest. Lopez raised his hand in self-defense, and petitioner cut him on the wrist.

Lopez ran from the scene and called 911 for help, but petitioner whistled, and four men emerged from a nearby apartment building and attacked Lopez. After knocking him to the ground, they hit and kicked him and took his cell phone and his wallet, which contained $400 in cash.

A police dispatch reported the incident and mentioned the possibility of gang involvement, and two Los Angeles police officers, Detective Clark and Officer Cirrito, drove to an alley frequented by members of the Drifters. A man who appeared scared walked by the officers and said: "'[T]he guy is in the apartment.'" Id., at 5. The officers then observed a man run through the alley and into the building to which the man was pointing. A minute or two later, the officers heard sounds of screaming and fighting coming from that building.

After backup arrived, the officers knocked on the door of the apartment unit from which the screams had been heard. Roxanne Rojas answered the door. She was holding a baby and appeared to be crying. Her face was red, and she had a large bump on her nose. The officers also saw blood on her shirt and hand from what appeared to be a fresh injury. Rojas told the police that she had been in a fight. Officer Cirrito asked if anyone else was in the apartment, and Rojas said that her 4-year-old son was the only other person present.

After Officer Cirrito asked Rojas to step out of the apartment so that he could conduct a protective sweep, petitioner appeared at the door wearing only boxer shorts. Apparently agitated, petitioner stepped forward and said, '"You don't have any right to come in here. I know my rights.'" Id., at 6. Suspecting that petitioner had assaulted Rojas, the officers removed him from the apartment and then placed him under arrest. Lopez identified petitioner as his initial attacker, and petitioner was taken to the police station for booking.

Approximately one hour after petitioner's arrest, Detective Clark returned to the apartment and informed Rojas that petitioner had been arrested. Detective Clark requested and received both oral and written consent from Rojas to search the premises.[2] In the apartment, the police found Drifters gang paraphernalia, a butterfly knife, clothing worn by the robbery suspect, and ammunition. Rojas' young son also showed the officers where petitioner had hidden a sawed-off shotgun.

B

Petitioner was charged with robbery, Cal. Penal Code Ann. §211 (West 2008), infliction of corporal injury on a spouse, cohabitant, or child's parent, §273.5(a), possession of a firearm by a felon, §12021(a)(l)(West 2009), possession of a short-barreled shotgun, § 12020(a)(1), and felony possession of ammunition, §12316(b)(l).

Before trial, petitioner moved to suppress the evidence found in the apartment, but after a hearing, the court denied the motion. Petitioner then pleaded nolo contendere to the firearms and ammunition charges. On the remaining counts-for robbery and infliction of corporal injury-he went to trial and was found guilty by a jury. The court sentenced him to 14 years of imprisonment.

The California Court of Appeal affirmed. 208 Cal.App.4th 100, 145 Cal.Rptr.3d 51 (2012). Because Randolph did not overturn our prior decisions recognizing that an occupant may give effective consent to search a shared residence, the court agreed with the majority of the federal circuits that an objecting occupant's physical presence is "indispensible to the decision in Randolph." Id., at 122, 145 Cal.Rptr. 3d, at 66.[3] And because petitioner was not present when Rojas ...


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