When cops knock, can they barge in?
Police came to Maria Huff’s Burbank home in 2007 after hearing that her son had written a letter threatening to shoot up his high school. They asked Huff if they could come in and she said no, not without a warrant. When they asked if there were any guns in the house, Huff said she would get her husband, then headed inside, followed by her son, who was also at the doorway, and four officers.
After remaining for five to 10 minutes and finding no evidence of a crime, the officers left. In short order they were hit with a civil suit by Huff, her husband and son — who had written no such threatening letter — for entering the home without any legal justification.
A federal judge dismissed the suit, saying the officers had reason to believe there might be guns in the home and that the family could be in danger. But a federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled this week that “mere speculation” doesn’t justify entering a home without consent from the residents, a warrant or actual evidence of a crime.
The officers “were not pursuing a fleeing felon,” the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a 2-1 ruling that reinstated the suit. “No crime had been committed. No crime was in progress. … The officers were investigating rumors of threats.”