Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Did Alabama Deputy Violate the "Sanctity Of The Home" and usher in an era of police misconduct?

A landmark U.S. Supreme Court case places a special burden on law-enforcement officers when entering the home to make an arrest. Evidence we've seen so far indicates Shelby County deputies failed to meet that burden when entering my home on October 23, 2013, to make an arrest on civil-contempt charges.

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)


Anonymous said...

If you did not ask the policemen to come into your home, but he came in anyway, It would appear that you have stated a cause of action of which relief may be granted. Those being legal words I see over and over in court filing. The trouble with our system is that you either have to have money to hire or have had training yourself in the process of working the system. Forget that right vs wrong bull, it's all in the method or manner in proceeding to state your claim. Use the wrong words or process and your claims never get a fair hearing. We have no court for the common man. Being a white man from the USA like yourself?? No one cares and that is a sad fact because in your case if it had happened to anyone but you, it would have been a major deal. You would have a team of lawyers doing your bidding right now. We all know that this is the truth and it is a sad world we live in today.

legalschnauzer said...

Thanks for a thoughtful comment, @8:20. Not only did I not ask the cop to come into my home, I specifically told him to get out. He admits this in his incident report, and it's clearly heard on the dash cam video.

I think your insights about our broken system are right on target--we truly do not have a court for the common man. One of the problems for someone like myself is that the wrongdoing in my case was driven by lawyers. And that means the Alabama State Bar, in my view, discourages other lawyers from taking on a case against fellow members of the "tribe."

I've been conducting research on the Alabama State Bar for some time and might be coming close to a major expose on them. The bar operates like an organized crime outfit, and I think a RICO lawsuit could expose them in a major way. Much of what they do amounts to obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and more.

I'm getting a bit off track, but I think you are right on target. Again, thanks for your insights.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if what happened to you was any sort of "official" precursor, but it is interesting that all of these other cases of police misconduct started rolling in not long after your arrest. The cases you mention in your post are only a small portion of those that are out there. You leave out a bunch of them.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with your interpretation of Payton. You seem to be trying to make it fit your case, but it clearly does not. Payton states the 4th Amendment "prohibits the police from making a warrantless and nonconsensual entry into a suspect's home in order to make a routine felony arrest." It does not prohibit entry with a warrant. If there was no warrant and no special exemption, I would agree with you. I would name examples of the exemptions, but, given the fact they are not relative to your case, it would be a waste of space.

As to a previous comment you directed to me about former officer Slager, I am not pulling for him. He attempted a cover up and tampered with the scene. I would never condone that kind of behavior from anybody.

As for your Law School 101, while I completely agree that you can resist an unlawful arrest, I believe you had a warrant for your arrest. The fact you haven't seen it, does not mean it didn't exist. What would your reaction have been if the warrants had been handed to you at the resisting trial? Or what if you were shown a copy today? Based on your conspiracy theories of the past, I'm sure you would say the judge signed them after the fact.

Anonymous said...

I am looking forward to your post on the most recent judgement against you. I would recommend going to court when you're told to do so. Of course, you will never pay the judgement so I guess there is no reason to try and defend yourself. Maybe it's a case of better to remain silent and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubts.


legalschnauzer said...

4:44--You said you would laugh at the thought of someone being cheated in court, and numerous articles have shown that Slager laughed about the Walter Scott shooting. I figured the two of you were cut from the same cloth.

Perhaps you've misread my posts on the subject, but I have repeatedly said that "the public record, as of now, shows there was no warrant in my case." That is true, based on the ADA's failure to turn one over when ordered to by a judge.

If a warrant turns up, so be it. But I have a hard time understanding why Blevins didn't produce it and neither did Willingham. And it wouldn't be a conspiracy theory to ask the obvious question: Why were these not presented earlier?

You're entitled to "believe" there was a warrant if you want to, but again, the public record at the moment shows there was not one. That's all I've said, over and over.

As for Payton, it's wording indicates even entry to a home, with a warrant, is prohibited for misdemeanor and noncriminal cases. We can agree to disagree on that.

legalschnauzer said...

4:54--I don't have much to say on this subject because I haven't seen any judgment against me. I also never received notice of a deposition or notice of a court date. I didn't go to court because I wasn't notified that I was to be there. Whenever I received notice, I was there. That's a matter of fact and public record.

I can say this: I read somewhere that Strange/Garrison claimed I had reported that the AG fathered her son. I never reported that. If the court can't get simple matters like that correct, then I have to wonder about its "judgment" as a whole.

Anonymous said...

I never said I would laugh at somebody being cheated in court. I believe there was a warrant and you will lose in your civil case because you don't have case. You like to read into things, As long as it fits what you want it to. Blevins stated there was a warrant, which is also a matter of record. Mrs. Willingham didn't have a copy of them to give you.

You can disagree all you want, but you are still wrong on Payton. It merely states the police can't kick your door in to arrest you without a warrant, even with probable cause, on a routine felony charge. Payton didn't rule out the possibility of kicking in your door on without a warrant on probable cause where there is substantial risks in proceeding without one.

Furthermore, if you read what was held in it's entirety, you would have read:

"(c) For Fourth Amendment purposes, an arrest warrant founded on probable cause implicitly carries with it the limited authority to enter a dwelling in which the suspect lives when there is reason to believe the suspect is within. Pp. 602-603."

There is no stipulation about misdemeanor or felony, it reads "arrest warrant". Surely you will agree that, if there was a warrant, Blevins would have reason to belive you were in your garage.

legalschnauzer said...

I'm afraid you didn't quote the full passage under item (C) in Payton. Here it is:

"If there is sufficient evidence of a citizen's participation in a felony to persuade a judicial officer that his arrest is justified, it is constitutionally reasonable
to require him to open his doors to the officers of the law. Thus, for Fourth Amendment purposes, an arrest warrant founded on probable cause implicitly carries with it the limited authority to enter a dwelling in which the suspect lives when there is reason to believe the suspect is within."

It does distinguish between a felony and a misdemeanor, and my case did not even involve a crime.

It's also clear that Blevins violated state law which requires him to state his purpose for being there before entering a home, which he did not do.

And we aren't even talking about the fact any warrant would have been based on a preliminary injunction that is on-its-face unconstitutional, making the arrest unlawful.

I suspect you will continue to defend the indefensible. Perhaps you see that as your role in life. Doesn't sound like it would be very satisfying to me.

If you feel so strongly about things, why don't you identify yourself? My contact info is on the blog. You can reach me, and we'll discuss further if you want.

I don't mind debating a subject, but I prefer to do it when I know who is on the other side.

Anonymous said...

I just read a lot more on the Payton case. The actual case was if evidence found inside the residence could be used in court. It had nothing to do with the actual entry for arrest. Look at, Riddick, the companion case that was combined under Payton. The point of Payton was that am arrest warrant alone would have been enough for the officer to enter the residence and perform a limited search for the offender. If evidence was discovered, in plain view, where the officers were legally allowed to be, it would have been admissible. I think we're comparing apples to oranges. An arrest warrant is good enough to let an officer walk in an open garage.

legalschnauzer said...

Your contention that Payton had "nothing to do with the actual entry" is patently false. It had everything to do with that.

The first sentence of the opinion is:

"These appeals challenge the constitutionality of New York statutes that authorize police officers to enter a private residence without a warrant and with force, if necessary, to make a routine felony arrest."

Suppression of evidence was a sidebar issue, at most.

Your contention that Blevins had grounds to enter a house to make a noncriminal arrest . . . well, I notice you cite no law to support it. If such law is out there, you apparently haven't found it, and neither have I.

Anonymous said...

People just don't want to believe an officer can enter a residence to arrest someone on a misdemeanor warrant and often law enforcement agencies have policies against doing so. Additionally, there is an argument that since Payton struck down a statute allowing entry without a warrant to make a felony arrest that the converse aspect of that decision is that officers can enter with a felony arrest warrant - not a misdemeanor arrest warrant. However, this interpretation of Payton has been roundly rejected.

The case which sets forth the interpretation of Payton allowing entry with a misdemeanor warrant is U.S. v. Spencer, JUL82, 2Cir No. 81-1493. The decision points out that no matter the language of the rejected statute, the court in Payton speaks of arrest warrants generally, not distinguishing felony warrants and misdemeanor warrants. It concludes that the general language includes all arrest warrants (felony, misdemeanor, and bench) and therefore an officer with any arrest warrant can enter a residence. Every opinion I have found addressing this issue adopts the Spencer reasoning and allows officers to enter residences when they have a misdemeanor warrant in hand. In fact, Virginia takes it a step further. In Archer v. Commonwealth, NOV97, VaApp No. 1726-96-1, the Virginia Court of Appeals approves entry when the officer knows of the existence of an arrest warrant, even if he does not personally have it.

legalschnauzer said...

Nice try, but you are off on several points:

(1) Spencer, from 2nd circuit, is not binding precedent in an Alabama state court.

(2) Spencer clearly states its finding applies to criminal cases, which mine was not. From Spencer: "Significantly, in the more recent case of Steagald v. United States, 451 U.S. 204, 101 S.Ct. 1642, 68 L.Ed.2d 38 (1981), the Court, in referring to Payton, placed no limitation on the kind of crime with which the suspect must be charged."

(3) Spencer also states that a bench warrant is to be issued only in a criminal case, which mine was not. Spencer says, "The function of a bench warrant is to achieve the court appearance of a defendant in a pending criminal action for some purpose other than his initial arraignment in the action." This indicates Claud Neilson's bench warrant in my case was unlawful.

(4) Spencer also notes that an officer is required to give notice of his authority and state his purpose before entering a home. Officer Blevins, in my case, did neither.

(5) As for the Virginia ruling, it obviously is not binding in Alabama.

Thanks for bringing Spencer to my attention. It actually makes my case stronger.

Anonymous said...

While another circuit is not binding, it can be used as an indicator to how a local ruling would go. Contempt of court is a crime. And the fresh pursuit would also apply. Blevins saw you outside your home and you fled inside.

legalschnauzer said...

You really should try the comedy-club circuit, @1:23. Looks like you've given up on trying to be taken seriously:

(1) Civil contempt is not a crime. That's why it's called "civil." (Duh)

(2) Spencer is not binding in an Alabama STATE court. (Duh). It isn't binding anywhere except in the 2nd FEDERAL circuit. (Duh)

(3) Spencer involves crimes, and my case involved no crime. (Duh)

(4) Fresh pursuit? You must be kidding with this one. Even Blevins didn't concoct this notion--and we all know law officers love to lie these days. Blevins never pursued me the first time, much less a "fresh" time. I had committed no crime, he never told me what he wanted with me, so I drove in my own garage, a total of about six feet, which I was entitled to do (seeing as how he had no lawful business on my property and never said he had any.)

Thanks for the comedy. As for law, I would suggest you give it a rest.