Payton v. New York 455 U.S. 573 (1980) "prohibits the police from making a warrantless and nonconsensual entry into a suspect's home in order to make a routine felony arrest." In fact, the words of Payton suggest the actions of Shelby County deputy Chris Blevins would have been unlawful even if he had a warrant.
That's because my arrest was not for a felony; it wasn't for a crime, and it wasn't supported by law. That would seem to make the Blevins' actions even more constitutionally dubious, considering that he entered my home without showing a warrant, knocked me to a concrete basement floor three times, and sprayed Mace in my face--all without even telling me why he was there.
A close reading of Payton, however, indicates Blevins' entry into our home would not have been made lawful by the presence of a warrant. (Hat tip to an anonymous comment who raised this issue on yesterday's post.) The Payton court found that a warrant must be present to enter a dwelling "to make a routine felony arrest." What about entry to a home for a misdemeanor arrest--or, as in my case, an arrest that was not criminal in nature at all?
Payton does not specifically address this issue, but it strongly suggests that entry into a home under such conditions is unlawful, even with a warrant.
Blevins' actions were troubling the night I was arrested, and that was roughly a year before police misconduct became a national issue with the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown by a white officer in Ferguson, Missouri--and the chokehold death of a black adult named Eric Garner in New York City.
It also happened before an Alabama police officer's assault on an Indian grandfather named Sureshbhai Patel; before an officer's fatal shooting of Walter Scott in South Carolina; and before the shooting of Eric Harris in Oklahoma, by an officer who apparently meant to tase Harris but shot and killed him with a pistol instead.
Did Blevins' unlawful entry into our home serve as a precursor to what has become, in 2014-15, "The Year Police Officers Were Unmasked As Thugs"? It's starting to look that way.
The Brown, Garner, Patel, and Harris debacles unfolded in public places. The thuggish behavior I experienced--which, thankfully, only roughed me up and did not kill me--took place in private, inside my own home. When officers start entering homes to rough up citizens who have been charged with no crime . . . well, our democracy might be showing serious wear and tear.
From Blevins' failure to show me a warrant or state that he had one, plus the failure of prosecutor Tonya Willingham to later produce a warrant when ordered to do so in court, makes a reasonable person think any warrant was defective for some reason--or there was no warrant at all.
This we know for sure: The law takes a dim view of law-enforcement officials entering a private dwelling without a valid warrant. Here are words from Payton v. New York:
The physical entry of the home is the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed. To be arrested in the home involves not only the invasion attendant to all arrests, but also an invasion of the sanctity of the home, which is too substantial an invasion to allow without a warrant, in the absence of exigent circumstances, even when it is accomplished under statutory authority and when probable cause is present. In terms that apply equally to seizures of property and to seizures of persons, the Fourth Amendment has drawn a firm line at the entrance to the house. Absent exigent circumstances, that threshold may not reasonably be crossed without a warrant.
How traumatic was it for my wife Carol and me to have a law-enforcement thug unlawfully enter our home and wreak havoc? The following interview with Carol, on Bob Kincaid's Head On Radio Network (HORN), gives an idea.
(To be continued)