US Supreme Court’s war on civil liberties
It ruled that police can enter a person’s home or other dwelling without his/her consent, representing the worrying trend of the ever-growing police state apparatus in the United States.
The recent ruling in Fernandez v California has established that police my enter a home or other dwelling even without the consent of the occupant, so long as at least one other occupant has given permission. This ruling creates a very dangerous precedent, further undermining the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution, which protects against unlawful search and seizures.
In addition, it demonstrates the degree to which US institutions of justice have become tools of political expediency serving power, rather than checking it.
Fernandez v California was a case involving a suspect in a street robbery who, when police came to his door, refused them entry, citing their lack of a warrant as required by the 4th Amendment. However, despite having refused the police entry to the apartment, he was arrested and taken away. When police returned to the apartment, they claim that the suspect’s girlfriend consented to their entering without a warrant. Inside, police seized a shotgun and gang-related material.
The case and the subsequent Supreme Court ruling raise several important questions about the nature of constitutional rights and civil liberties in the US today. Additionally, it further entrenches the rights of police to act unlawfully and with total disregard for accepted norms of civil and human rights both in the US and around the world.
Far from being a world leader in this regard, the United States seems to be continuing on the road to a police state.
Court decision and its impact
The 6-3 ruling from the US Supreme Court upheld the narrowly defined and interpreted previous court decision (Georgia v Randolph), which held that police had no constitutional right to search a house when one resident consents and another objects. In Fernandez, the court establishes the point that, given that the objecting party (Mr. Fernandez) was not present due to his arrest an hour earlier, police had the right to search the home with the consent of its other occupant, Fernandez’s girlfriend Roxanne Rojas.
In articulating the majority decision, Justice Alito wrote:
“A warrantless consent search is reasonable and thus consistent with the 4th Amendment irrespective of the availability of a warrant…Even with modern technological advances, the warrant procedure imposes burdens on the officers who wish to search [and] the magistrate who must review the warrant application…Denying someone in Rojas' position the right to allow the police to enter her home would also show disrespect for her independence.”
Essentially, Alito is arguing that the constitutionally-required process of seeking a warrant is cumbersome and infringes on the ‘independence’ of the other occupant. Naturally, one should ask to what extent it is within the purview of a Supreme Court justice, or a typical police officer, to make such a determination given that the 4th Amendment is quite clear and is intended to protect the rights of citizens, rather than hinder their independence.
However, in writing the dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out perhaps the key point of all. She noted, “Instead of adhering to the warrant requirement, today’s decision tells the police they may dodge it.” Here, Ginsburg cuts to the very heart of the matter, that Fernandez v California now establishes the precedent that the police merely need to remove a suspect from the his/her home, thereby removing their ‘presence’, in order for police to justify, through whatever means available, a search that previously would have been deemed illegal. Of course, this opens the door to any number of abuses.
One must also consider how this decision might lead to further abuses of power by the police or other agencies of the local, state or federal government. There are undoubtedly instances where the co-occupant will be threatened, intimidated or lied to by police in order to pressure him/her into consenting to an unwanted search. It is easy to imagine an immigrant, or even a citizen, lacking language skills being deliberately misled by authorities in order to intimidate them into consenting to a search. None of this would be anything new for police forces throughout the US.
It does not take a legal scholar to understand that police can often abuse the letter of the law in order to justify nearly any action they take. As Project Censored and many other outlets have reported, police have been known to plant drugs, falsify reports, exaggerate claims, and simply lie in court in order to craft any sort of narrative most expedient to them. By providing still more leeway to police, this most recent decision only accelerates the expansion of the all-encompassing US police state.
Police brutality & political repression
What makes Fernandez v California all the more troubling is that it is merely another tool for the law enforcement apparatus to use against Americans, be they criminals or not. Recent events in the United States have highlighted the growing problem of police brutality, criminality and militarization.
The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement produced a comprehensive report documenting the fact that person of color is extra-judicially murdered every 36 hours in the United States, either by police or other quasi-law enforcement institutions.
Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Trayvon Martin and countless others have been victimized by what can only be regarded as a form of institutionalized repression of people of color. However, the problem of course goes much deeper.
As the incredible brutality perpetrated on peaceful protesters from Occupy Wall Street and associated movements all over the country attest to, the police have moved from law enforcement to political enforcement. The tactics of repression of varied, ranging from pepper spray to false arrest to undercover provocateur activities. However, they all point to the disturbing and inescapable trend that, as political and social unrest grows in the US, the police apparatus grows with it.
Taking it one step further though, one must understand that, as the police repression grows, so too grows the legal framework within which it is normalized and codified into law. The Fernandez ruling is one small example of the continued erosion of civil liberties in the United States, the continued trampling of the US Constitution, and with it the permanent destruction of those liberties Americans hold so dear.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.