Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Indiana Court of Appeals Court Rules Police Officers Violated Fourth Amendment in Warrantless Entry Case; Lafayette Native Margaret Robb Authors Opinion

The Indiana Court of Appeals handed down an emphatic decision today reversing a lower court's ruling that led to the conviction of  J.K., a juvenile who was subsequently declared a delinquent based on charges that he illegally possessed and consumed alcohol. 

The appeals court determined that three Winamac police officers violated the juvenile's constitutional rights when they conducted a warrantless search of the boy's home after receiving a complaint regarding a disturbance in the area.

Lafayette Native Judge Robb
Lafayette native Judge Margaret Robb wrote the opinion and concluded that the "officers' warrantless entry on J.K.'s curtilage, including both the sides of the house and back yard, violated the Fourth Amendment."

"Further we hold the officers' presence at the home and continually knocking for approximately one hour without an answer from an occupant exceeded their implied invitation to knock and talk and constituted an unreasonable search in contravention of the Fourth Amendment.  Finally we also conclude the the officers' warrantless residential entry was unconstitutional."

This is a victory for freedom-loving citizens throughout the Hoosier state, and it sends a strong message to police officers that the fourth amendment must not be trifled with.  The ends do not justify the means, especially when constitutional rights are at stake.  When citizens like J.K. go to lengths to fight these types of abuses it benefits all of society. 

J.K.'s trouble began on December 22, 2011 when someone complained to the Pulaski County Sheriff's Department that juveniles were making noise.  Officers Brian Gaillard and Mark Hoffman arrived at the home of the defendant and saw a shopping cart in the bed of a pick-up truck, which they suspected had been stolen.

Officer Hoffman knocked on the front door while Officers Gaillard and Haley went through the yard around either side of the residence to make sure no one left through the back door.  One officer saw empty beer cans through a window.

No one answered the door as the officer continued to knock.  Officer Gaillard called for a tow truck to impound the pickup truck that contained the shopping cart while the officers remained on the front portch for an additional forty minutes.  Officer Hoffman kept knocking on the door and yelled for the occupants to answer the door.  Finally, after being warned that his truck was going to be towed, one juvenile came outside.

At some point the officers entered the house without a warrant and performed a search where they found additional evidence of underage drinking.  J.K. was charged with illegal possession of alcohol, illegal consumption, and aiding illegal consumption. 

J.K.'s attorney filed a motion to suppress; however, the trial court denied the order and concluded the officer's entry into the residence was justified under the "protective sweep exception" to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement.  J.K. appealed the decision.

Several key points were made in the appellate ruling after Judge Robb spelled out the Fourth Amendment:

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The court duly notes that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that "the curtilage -- the area 'immediately surrounding and associated with the home' -- is 'part of the home itself for Fourth Amendment purposes... Thus, warrantless entry onto one's curtilage is also presumptively unreasonable.'

Also at issue was the contention that officers violated J.K.'s rights by "engaging in unconstitutional knock and talk."

The court determined that when the officers continually knocked for approximately one hour without an answer that it "exceeded their implied invitation to knock and talk," which was noted as an "interesting issue" with little binding authority.

"The Supreme Court in Jardines described the implied invitation to knock and talk as the license to do 'no more than any private citizen might do.'  As noted above, this limited invitation 'permits the visitor to approach the home by the front path, knock promptly, wait briefly to be received and then (absent invitation to linger longer) leave.'  This statement implies that a failure to leave after a brief period exceeds the implied invitation to enter one's curtilage and would violate the Fourth Amendment.  Indeed, Jardines held that law enforcement's use of trained dogs on the defendant's front porch violated the Fourth Amendment; that holding is based on the idea that such conduct was not encompassed by the implied invitation to approach portions of the curtilage."

The ruling also noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has established that "the occupant has no obligation to open the door or to speak."

"[W]hen it comes to the Fourth Amendment, the home is first among equals.  At the Amendment's very core stands the right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable government intrusion.  This right would be of little practical value if the State's agents could stand in a home's porch or side garden and trawl for evidence with impunity..."

The court also addressed the state's claims that the officers' presence on the property was reasonable because they believed the shopping cart to be stolen.

"That argument is misguided," wrote Judge Robb.  "There is no general emergency exception to the warrant requirement, nor does the mere existence of a crime constitute an exception."

"We wish to make this point loud and clear:  suspicion of criminal activity is not an exception to the warrant requirement," Robb continued.  "Moreover, even if the shopping cart were relevant, we do not believe the officers had probable cause to believe the shopping cart was stolen."

Thank you, Judge Robb, for dispensing justice and for protecting the Fourth Amendment as written.

You can read the complete 25-page ruling at this link.

Read about Judge Margaret Robb at this link and also at this link.

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