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Supreme Court: Bizarre Behavior With Imminence of Violence Gives Cops Right to Enter Your Home

In Darin Rayburn, et al v. George Huff, et al, the Supreme Court ruled that police have the right to enter one’s home without a warrant if they observe bizarre behavior. Darin Rayburn, et al v. George Huff, Et al, No. 11-208 (2012).

Burbank police officers, Darin Ryburn and Edmundo Zepeda, responded to a call that a student was threatening to shoot up a local high school. After interviewing the alleged shooter’s friends and noting the alleged shooter’s absences from school, Ryburn and Zepeda felt there was a credible threat.

When the two officers went to the student’s home, no one answered their knocks or phone calls, so the officers called the student’s mother on her cell phone. The mother indicated she and her son were inside the house. After two minutes, the mother and her son came out of the house. The mother answered a few questions but refused to allow the officers into her home. At no time did the mother ask why the officers were there or answer.

When the officers asked the mother if there were guns in the house the mother “immediately turn[ed] around and r[an] into the house.” Concerned the mother may be going to get a gun, the officers entered behind her. The mother and son did not make any effort to go beyond the living room, so the officers continued talking to the mother and son in the living room. At no time did the officers attempt to search the house. When the officers determined that the son was not a threat they left and reported their conclusion to the high school. The family then sued the officers under Rev. Stat. §1979, 42 U. S. C. §1983 alleging the officers violated their Fourth Amendment rights by entering their home without a warrant.

The District Court concluded that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity because Mrs. Huff’s odd behavior, combined with the information the officers knew, gave the officers a reasonable belief “that there could be guns inside the home” putting the officers in danger. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals partially reversed the District Court’s ruling. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the officers could enter a home without a warrant if they reasonably believed that immediate entry was necessary to protect themselves or others from imminent serious harm, but then held that the officers’ belief that they were in serious immediate danger was objectively unreasonable.

The Supreme Court agreed with the District Court and reversed the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court held that both courts were correct that the Fourth Amendment permits the police to enter a residence if an officer has a reasonable basis for concluding that there is an imminent threat of danger. The Court disagreed with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that the violence was not imminent.

The Las Vegas law office of Lagomarsino Law did not represent anyone involved in the above-referenced case. The commentary is for educational and commentary purposes only. If you would like to be represented by a Nevada attorney, contact our office for a free confidential case review and receive a response within hours. Call Toll Free 866-414-0400.