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L.A. man loses U.S. Supreme Court case involving warrantless search

February 27, 2014

A Los Angeles man who appealed his robbery conviction all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — arguing that police had no right to search his apartment in his absence, even though another resident gave consent — lost his case Tuesday.

The 6-3 ruling gives authorities more leeway to search homes without obtaining a warrant, even when there is no emergency.

The case began in 2009 when Los Angeles police responded to reports of a street robbery near Venice Boulevard and Magnolia Avenue. They pursued a suspect to an apartment building, heard shouting inside a unit and knocked on the door.

Roxanne Rojas opened the door, but her boyfriend, Walter Fernandez, told officers they could not enter without a warrant.

“You don’t have any right to come in here. I know my rights,” Fernandez shouted from inside the apartment, according to court records.

Fernandez was arrested in connection with the street robbery and taken away. An hour later, police returned and searched his apartment, this time with Rojas’ consent. They found a shotgun and gang-related material.

Fernandez was later convicted for his role in the street robbery and sentenced to 14 years in prison. After the California Supreme Court upheld his conviction, he appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the search of his apartment.

In Tuesday’s decision, the high court said Fernandez did not have the right to prevent the search of his apartment once he was gone and Rojas had consented.

The majority, led by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., said police need not take the time to get a magistrate’s approval before entering a home in such cases. But dissenters, led by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, warned that the decision would erode protections against warrantless home searches.

The court had previously held that such protections were at the “very core” of the 4th Amendment and its ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

But Alito said police were free to search when they get the consent of the only occupant on site.

By David G. Savage/Los Angeles Times, February 26, 2014

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