WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court considered Monday whether police officers should have knocked to announce their presence when responding to complaints about a party so loud that authorities could not be heard shouting their presence.
Several justices seemed ready to side with four Brigham City, Utah, police officers who tried in vain to get the attention of people at a July 2001 party before entering the home without a warrant and screaming, “Police!”
|In other actions taken Monday by the Supreme Court, justices:
* Refused to get involved in a fight over a poster of Jesus that a New York kindergarten student submitted for a class assignment on ways to save the environment. The student’s parents have sued, claiming free-speech rights were violated when school officials censored his poster by folding it in half.
* Asked for the Bush administration’s views in a patent dispute between Microsoft Corp. and AT&T Corp. over Windows programs distributed overseas.
* Turned down appeals challenging the federal government’s system for trimming sentences of inmates who behave themselves. Justice John Paul Stevens called for more study of the issue.
* Refused to consider an appeal from Michael Brad Magleby, who was convicted in 1999 of burning a cross on the lawn of an interracial couple in Salt Lake City.
The officers entered the home after they peeked through a window and saw a teenager, who was being restrained by four adults, throw a punch that drew blood.
According to court filings, the police tried to get the attention of people at the party at the front of the house before walking to the back yard, where they saw two intoxicated teenagers.
Once on the back porch, an officer yelled, “Police,” at a screen door. When he received no response, he opened the door, took a few steps inside and screamed, “Police,” again.
“Why isn’t screaming, ‘Police,’ enough?” asked Justice Antonin Scalia, who described requiring more as “absurd.”
Once the adults realized the officers were inside the house, they allegedly became abusive and were charged with disorderly conduct, intoxication and contributing to the delinquency of a minor – all misdemeanors.
“That’s the major matter we are resolving today?” Justice John Paul Stevens asked dryly.
A decision in the case could be significant if the justices want to set a standard police should use to enter homes without warrants during emergencies.
But the justices showed little desire to use “the party case” – as Justice Stephen Breyer called it – to set such an important requirement for police.
Justices focused on the noise, not the threat of violence, as justification for police to enter the home without knocking or without obtaining a warrant.
Brigham City wants the justices to reverse a Utah Supreme Court ruling that police were not justified in entering the home without a warrant. Washington state is among the many states supporting Utah in the case.
A trial judge threw out the charges against the adults and ruled that police had violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches by failing to knock before entering the house.