Friday, June 02, 2006

Yes, Police Can Stop Your Violent Drunken Melee

From the AP:

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that police do not need a warrant to go into a home to break up a bloody fight.

Justices said that a "melee" that Brigham City, Utah, police officers saw through a window early one morning in 2000 justified rushing in without knocking first.

"The role of a peace officer includes preventing violence and restoring order, not simply rendering first aid to casualties; an officer is not like a boxing (or hockey) referee, poised to stop a bout only if it becomes too one-sided," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote.

The ruling overturned findings by three Utah courts that the officers violated the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches when they entered the house without getting permission.


Roberts said that officers did everything right when they arrived about 3 a.m. after getting a complaint about a loud party. They saw juveniles drinking beer in the backyard.

After seeing a scuffle through back windows, including someone punched in the mouth and spitting blood, an officer opened a screen door and tried to announce the arrival of police but could not be heard over the noise.

Roberts said the officers "were free to enter; it would serve no purpose to require them to stand dumbly at the door awaiting a response while those within brawled on, oblivious to their presence."

I still can hardly believe this case made it to the Supreme Court - but it does help that the result was unanimous.

Some complained that the state of Utah was willing to pay for the appeals that eventually reached the Supreme Court because the charges were relatively minor, but an important principle was at stake:
Assistant Utah Attorney General Jeffrey Gray said the case was about officer flexibility in responding to violence, not the individual misdemeanor charges.

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