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Supreme Court ruling eases police search of suspect's home

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court on Tuesday handed a victory to law enforcement agencies by making it easier for police to search a dwelling without a warrant.

The court held on a 6-3 vote that police can search a home without a warrant, even if the suspect has objected, as long as he is no longer on the scene and a co-tenant gives consent.

It made no difference that the suspect, Walter Fernandez, had earlier objected to the police entering the apartment before police took him outside, the court concluded.

The ruling was a loss for Fernandez, who had wanted evidence found during the search, including firearms and gang paraphernalia, to be suppressed as a violation of the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Fernandez appealed after he was sentenced to 14 years in prison for several offenses, including a robbery that prompted the police search. He sought the Supreme Court review after a California appeals court dismissed his claims.

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said the written consent form signed by the apartment co-tenant, Roxanne Rojas, made the search legitimate. If the court had not ruled for the government, lawful occupants would be prevented from inviting the police into their homes to conduct searches in similar situations, Alito said.

"Any other rule would trample on the rights of the occupant who is willing to consent," he added.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan all dissented.

Writing on their behalf, Ginsburg said that by focusing on Rojas' consent, the court gave police an incentive to avoid asking a judge for a search warrant in similar situations.

The case is Fernandez v. California, U.S. Supreme Court, 12-7822.

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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