by Ed Lyon
Most Americans are familiar with the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees them security in their persons and homes from unreasonable searches and seizures.
Perhaps this is where the axiom that a man’s home is his castle originated, or maybe it was the other way around.
At any rate, as the law continues to evolve—or devolve—neither of these seems to have very much applicability in the far northwest corner of the country. Shoreline, Washington, resident Solomon McLemore is probably inclined to agree with those sentiments.
In the wee hours of the morning on March 1, 2016, Shoreline police showed up at McLemore’s door in response to a passerby’s report of an alleged argument. McLemore, apparently knowledgeable of his rights, would neither exit his home nor allow police to enter. Demands by officers to enter escalated to the point of disorderly conduct by the police as they crossed the line of peace keepers to law breakers, shouting: “Open the fucking door,” as their attempts to enter the home approached the 15-minute mark.
Based on the pretext of supposedly hearing glass breaking inside, police breached McLemore’s home, breaking down his front door, and entering Gestapo-style as McLemore stood placidly by, watching, finally telling the home-invading cops “you’re violating my civil rights.” No one in the home was injured or in need of assistance. Police nonetheless arrested McLemore, charging him with “suspicion of obstruction of a law enforcement officer for failing to open his home to police.” So much for McLemore’s belief that he “was acting on my Fourth Amendment [rights].”
According to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in a recent case, McLemore was right. “When law enforcement officers who are not armed with a warrant knock on a door, they do no more than any private citizen might do. And whether the person who knocks on the door and requests the opportunity to speak is a police officer or a private citizen, the occupant has no obligation to open the door or speak,” he wrote.
Unfortunately for McLemore, Justice Alito was in the other Washington when a local judge who presided over his trial sentenced him to 20 days home confinement after a jury found him guilty of the obstruction charge.
McLemore appealed his conviction. Despite the lofty words of Justice Alito, the appellate court affirmed his conviction based upon a precedent rendered by a split decision in another Washington state case where mobile home resident Ronald Steen refused to allow cops to enter his home. Cops responded by breaching Steen’s home through a window to effect his arrest.
Petitioning the state’s Supreme Court to grant review and hear the case is a concerted effort by the Washington state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union along with the state’s Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and Defender Association. If successful in their bid for review and the case-in-chief, not only will McLemore’s conviction be reversed, but the Steen precedent as well. If not, there remains Justice Alito in a much higher supreme court in the other Washington.
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