Although the state supreme court initially overturned the conviction, since the court was split 4-4, it was forced to let the unjust ruling stand.
Yesterday afternoon, the Supreme Court of Washington state was forced to ‘amend’ it’s ruling in a bizarre case.
In the liberal bastion of Seattle, a man refused to open his door to police officers, who then decided that they should enter the home anyway and they did. Without a warrant.
They arrested the man and he was sentenced to serve 20 days in jail.
Although the highest court in the state initially ruled that the conviction was unconstitutional, on Friday, it amended the opinion as follows:
“We in the lead opinion would hold the city presented insufficient evidence to sustain [Solomon] McLemore’s conviction and remand to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. However, we recognize this opinion has garnered only four signatures. ‘Therefore, there being no majority for the reversal of the judgment of the trial court, it necessarily stands affirmed, and the order of this court is that the judgment appealed from be and it is hereby affirmed.’”
Basically, it’s not obstruction if you don’t let cops in your home without a warrant (duh), but the liberal element on the court prevented the overturning of the man’s conviction.
So while the lead opinion initially would have reversed the conviction, because the court split evenly, 4-4, McLemore’s conviction in the trial court still stands. The rest of the piece has been updated accordingly.
McLemore’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while the Shoreline Prosecutor’s Office wrote that “the city is still considering whether to file a motion to clarify.”
A man who refused to open his door to let police enter his home without a warrant should not have been convicted for obstruction of justice, the lead opinion for the Washington Supreme Court concluded on Thursday. “Criminalizing the refusal to open one’s own door to a warrantless entry would be enormously chilling and inconsistent with our deeply held constitutional values,” Justice Steven Gonzalez wrote in Shoreline v. McLemore.
Yet with the conviction upheld, Washington appears to be “the only jurisdiction in which citizens may be prosecuted merely for failing to yield when law enforcement demands warrantless entry to their homes,” according to an amicus brief filed by the ACLU of Washington.
The case began more than three years ago in Shoreline, Washington when a late-night shouting match between Solomon McLemore and his girlfriend prompted a bystander to dial 911. When the officers arrived and repeatedly demanded to be let in, the yelling stopped though no one answered the door. After 15 minutes and still no response, police heard glass shattering and, suspecting domestic violence, began forcing their way inside.
As the officers broke down the door, McLemore told police that they were infringing on his rights and that they needed a warrant. Officers also heard McLemore tell his girlfriend to tell police that she was ok.
Once inside, police determined that the woman was not injured and promptly threw McLemore in handcuffs.
But McLemore wasn’t charged for domestic violence. Instead, police arrested McLemore for “obstructing a law enforcement officer,” which involves “willfully hinder[ing], delay[ing], or obstruct[ing] any law enforcement officer in the discharge of his or her official powers or duties.” For refusing to open his door to police, McLemore was convicted for obstruction and sentenced to 20 days of house arrest.
On appeal, McLemore didn’t challenge the city’s forcible entry and conceded that it fell under a warrant exemption for “community caretaking.” “It is undisputed that the officers here responded appropriately and lawfully to a potential domestic violence situation,” Justice Gonzalez wrote.
But whether residents had to comply with a warrantless entry was a different matter entirely. As the justice noted, there was “no law requiring people to open their own doors to officers seeking warrantless entry.”
“While cooperation with the police might have been wise, the failure to do so was not criminal under these circumstances,” he added. “Lack of cooperation does not become obstruction of justice merely because it causes the police delay. ‘As a general proposition, there is no obligation to cooperate with the police.’”
The fact that McLemore was convicted makes Washington State an outlier. “In the vast majority of cases called to our attention, courts have held that there is no obligation to open a home to an officer’s warrantless demand for entry,” Gonzalez wrote, noting that just last month the New Jersey Supreme Court, “on almost identical facts, unanimously held failure to act was not obstruction.”
And the Washington Supreme Court itself has repeatedly warned in the past that obstruction laws can “result in disturbing intrusions into an individual’s right to privacy and can implicate other rights specifically enumerated in the Bill of Rights.”
By reiterating the principle that “the closer officers come to intrusion into a dwelling, the greater the constitutional protection,” Shoreline v. McLemore shows the importance of protecting residents from government intrusions into their homes. One of the largest incursions in the state is Seattle’s Rental Registration & Inspection Ordinance (RRIO), which aims to inspect the city’s entire rental housing stock—over 152,000 rental units as of December 2018. Under the RRIO, landlords can only rent out property if they’re registered with the city, while those properties can only be registered after they have been inspected.
In order to conduct their extensive inspections (the checklist alone runs 12-pages long), rental inspectors can strong-arm their way inside without a warrant or the tenant’s consent. Given the program’s scale, thousands of residents have been or will be threatened by warrantless searches. Worse, residents who wish to preserve their privacy can face fines of up to $500 per day for every day the rental inspectors are denied entry.
On behalf of renters and landlords, the Institute for Justice has filed a class-action lawsuit against Seattle’s “extremely invasive” RRIO, claiming that the program violates the Washington Constitution, which declares that “no person shall be disturbed in his private affairs, or his home invaded, without authority of law.”
Critically, the lawsuit does not challenge rental inspections conducted with the tenant’s permission. Nor would it prevent Seattle from obtaining an inspection warrant if it has probable cause to suspect a housing code violation at a property. (Though according to IJ, the city has “never obtained, or even sought, an inspection warrant” since the RRIO began in 2015.)
“We intend to defend this law meant to ensure the habitability of rental properties for Seattle’s tenants,” a spokesman for the Seattle City Attorney’s Office told Curbed in December. Last month, King County Superior Court Judge Steve Rosen denied the city’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, ensuring that IJ’s constitutional challenge can go forward.
“It is plainly unconstitutional for Seattle to force renters to open up their homes to government inspectors when nothing is wrong inside,” said William Maurer, the managing attorney of the Institute for Justice’s Washington Office. “The lawsuit seeks to do one simple, but important, thing—allow tenants to exercise their constitutional rights and say ‘no’ when an inspector shows up without a warrant.”
The fact that cases even exist where police force their way into homes without a warrant is, to many people, completely unacceptable.
However, most liberals with a mindset of ‘I’m better than you and know what’s for your own good’ don’t often see it that way and think there can be extenuating ‘circumstances’ where the constitutional protections that ensure liberty are ignored.