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Ruling related to Fourth Amendment, threatens citizens’ rights

According to the U.S. Courts website, the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects an individual from "unreasonable searches and seizures" to their homes, cars and persons without consent. Upholding the Fourth Amendment is critical to preserving the rights of an individual to privacy and from harassment and unlawful search and seizure by law enforcement.

A criminal defense citing the Fourth Amendment is often upheld in court. However, a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court took a different stance in a case where more than one occupant lives at a residence.

Under the Fourth Amendment, an individual must consent before police officers are allowed to search their home. If an individual does not consent, police officers who demonstrate probable cause must go through the proper channels to obtain a search warrant.

In the case, Fernandez v. California, U.S. Supreme Court Justices were asked to rule on whether police officers acted within legal procedure when they searched the home of a man suspected of domestic assault and robbery.

In this case, while investigating a robbery, eye witnesses pointed police officers to a nearby apartment. Upon knocking on the apartment door, police were greeted by a woman who appeared to have been injured in a domestic dispute. The woman's boyfriend, who also lived at the residence, informed officers that they had no right to search the apartment. Officers then arrested the man.

He was identified as a robbery suspect and taken to the police station. The man's girlfriend then consented to allow the officers to search the apartment which lead to the discovery of items and weapons believed to have been used in the robbery. The question before the Court related to whether or not police violated the Fourth Amendment when the man denied them access to the apartment, but the woman consented.

The majority ruled the man's rights to deny police access do not trump the woman's rights to provide access. Three judges disagreed and wrote in their dissent that the Court's decision "tells police they many dodge" the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement.

Colorado residents who believe their constitutional rights were breached by members of law enforcement would be wise to discuss their case with a criminal defense attorney. A defense attorney can present evidence to prove the proper procedures were not followed which in turn may result in evidence against a defendant being deemed inadmissible in court.

Source: ABA Journal, "Cops may search home when suspect objects but girlfriend later consents, Supreme Court says," Debra Cassens Weiss, Feb. 25, 2014

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