The US Supreme Court today took up once again the problem of searches by consent when one lawful occupant of the property consents and another, the defendant, refuses. In Fernandez v. California, No. 12-7822, the Court decided to review the decision of the California Court of Appeal in a Los Angeles case, People v. Fernandez, 208 Cal. App. 4th 100, 145 Cal. Rptr. 3d 51 (2012). An excerpt follows the jump.
A jury convicted defendant Walter Fernandez of second degree robbery (Pen. Code, § 211) (count 1) and willful infliction of corporal injury on a spouse, cohabitant, or child's parent (§ 273.5, subd. (a)) (count 2); as to count 1, the jury further found that (1) in the commission of the offense, the defendant personally used a dangerous and deadly weapon, to wit, a knife, within the meaning of section 12022, subdivision (b)(1); and (2) the offense was committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a criminal street gang, within the meaning of section 186.22, subdivision (b)(1). Defendant pled nolo contendere to possession of a firearm by a felon (§ 12021, subd. (a)(1)) (count 3), short-barreled shotgun or rifle activity (§ 12020, subd. (a)(1)) (count 4), and possession of ammunition (§ 12316, subd. (b)(1)) (count 5). The trial court imposed a sentence of 14 years.
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Detective Kelly Clark and Officer Joseph Cirrito responded to a police radio dispatch on October 12, 2009. Because the police dispatcher indicated possible involvement by members of the Drifters gang in an assault with a deadly weapon, Clark and Cirrito drove to an alley near Magnolia and 14th Street where they knew Drifters gathered. As they stood in the alley, two men walked by and one said, "[T]he guy is in the apartment." The speaker appeared very scared and walked away quickly. When he returned, he again said, "He's in there. He's in the apartment." Immediately thereafter, the detectives saw a tall, light-skinned, Hispanic or White male wearing a light blue T-shirt and khaki pants run through the alley and into the house where the witness was pointing. The house had been restructured into multiple apartments and was a known gang location. A minute or so later, the officers heard sounds of screaming and fighting from the apartment building into which the suspect had run.The trial court denied the suppression motion, and the Court of Appeal affirmed. The California Supreme Court denied review.
Clark and Cirrito called for backup and, once additional officers arrived, knocked on the door of the unit from which they had heard screaming. The door was opened by Roxanne Rojas, who was holding a baby and appeared to be crying. Her face was red and she had a big bump on her nose that looked fresh. She had blood on her shirt and hand that appeared to come from a fresh injury. Cirrito asked what happened and she said she had been in a fight. Cirrito then asked if anyone else was inside the apartment, and she said only her son. When Cirrito asked her to step outside so he could conduct a sweep of the apartment, defendant stepped forward. He was dressed only in boxer shorts and seemed very agitated. He said, "You don't have any right to come in here. I know my rights." Cirrito removed him from the residence and took him into custody.
While Cirrito and Clark arrested defendant at the rear of the house, two men ran out of the front of the house. Officers detained them for questioning.
After defendant was removed from the scene, officers secured the apartment. Clark then went back to Rojas, told her that defendant had been identified as a robbery suspect, and asked for Rojas's consent to search the apartment. Rojas gave consent, orally and in writing. During the ensuing search, officers found Drifters gang paraphernalia, a butterfly knife, boxing gloves, and clothing, including black pants and a light blue shirt. None of the items stolen from the victim was ever found.
The officers interviewed Rojas about her injuries. She said that when defendant entered the apartment, she confronted him about his relationship with a woman named Vanessa. They argued, and defendant struck Rojas in the face. The officers also spoke to Rojas's four-year-old son, Christian, who told them defendant had a gun. Officers recovered a sawed-off shotgun from a heating unit where Christian told them it was hidden.
Two days later, Cirrito interviewed Rojas again. She said several times that she did not want to be a "rat" and that defendant would be very upset if he knew she was talking to the police. She denied that defendant struck her and said she had been struck in the face by Vanessa.