High Court Could Clear Up 4th Amendment Search Issues


If police show up at the front door of a house occupied by two people and request permission to search the house, what happens if one occupant says no and the other says yes? Seven years ago, the US Supreme Court answered that question, ruling that in the event of a tie between disagreeing occupants the objecting occupant wins, says the Christian Science Monitor. There would be no consent for a police search. On Wednesday, the high court took up a similar case, but with an important twist.

What happens if one occupant objects to a search, the police then arrest the objecting occupant, and subsequently obtain consent to search from the other occupant? That's the question in Fernandez v. California, a 2009 case involving a police search of an apartment in Los Angeles shared by a suspected street gang member and his girlfriend. The case may help define the contours of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures by the police, clarifying the rules about warrantless searches. Under the Fourth Amendment, police must obtain a judicially authorized warrant before searching a home. But if an occupant gives permission, no warrant is necessary and any evidence or illegal contraband discovered can be seized and used in a trial.

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