The United States Constitution protects citizens from unlawful search and seizure. Part of what is known as the Bill of Rights, this amendment is meant to prevent law enforcement or government officials from fabricating evidence, planting evidence, or illegally obtaining evidence for later use against suspects in various crimes. The 4th Amendment is also part and parcel of a balancing of governmental power with individual rights.
In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld these 4th Amendment rights, maintaining that, in non-emergent situations, police cannot enter an individual’s home without a warrant without permission. Lower courts in California have, however, ruled that any resident – not just the suspect – can give that permission. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court has accepted the Fermandez v. California 12-7822 on appeal.
In October of 2009, Los Angeles police officers were in the process of investigating a robbery and assault case when they heard screams and loud noises coming from Walter Fernandez’s apartment. An injured woman answered the door when the police knocked, but Fernandez refused them entry and he was subsequently arrested. The woman gave permission for police to enter the abode, where evidence was found tying Fernandez to gang-related crimes. This evidence was key in his eventual conviction on charges of robbery (CA Penal Code §211) and domestic violence (CA Penal Code §273.5). In fact, 10 of the 14 years of the jury’s sentence were a direct result of the evidence found that day.
There is no question concerning the protections offered by the 4th Amendment – they are clear and absolute. Another resident of the same home cannot give permission for police to enter without a warrant; that action can only be taken by the individual that law enforcement officials suspect of a crime. The decision made by the California Second District Court of Appeal, and lower courts before them, to uphold the search conducted in the Fernandez case will most certainly be overturned in the U.S. Supreme Court, where justices are bound by the U.S. Constitution, not to interpret the law as they please, but as it is written.