Monday, January 30, 2012

Ryburn v. Huff, 132 S.Ct. 987 (U.S.)

In a case so uncomplicated the Supreme Court issued a per curiam opinion reversing the 9th Circuit. Again.

A school superintendent called police and informed them a student had issued a death threat by firearm. Officers went to the student's home and received no response after knocking on the door. They called on the phone and received no answer.  Moments later, a woman (the student's mother) opened the door and the officers informed her they had received information about a threat and asked to talk to the student.  They asked her if any firearms were in the house and the woman ran inside.  Officers, unaware of her conduct, ran inside to assure their safety. No searches were conducted and no person mistreated.

As it turned out, the threat was only a rumor.  So the parents of the student sued for violation of Fourth Amendment rights.  Although the district court judge found the conduct of the officers reasonable, the 9th Circuit reversed. According to a 2-1 majority, the police conduct was unreasonable.  The dissenting judge criticised the majority for "sanitizing the facts."

Apparently the 9th Circuit assumed the officers should just stand in the doorway and wait until the woman  either returned with a firearm or shot at them from a concealed location.  That, in  essence, is what the Supreme Court wrote.  Given all the threats and killing on school premises, the officers were concerned for the safety of the students.  Their conduct was perfectly reasonable under the circumstances.

Another case of 9th Circuit naivete. Only that court would allow this silly lawsuit to go forward.  The police responded to a complaint from a legitimate source.  Attempts to contact the inhabitants peacefully  by knocking on the door and using the telephone were unsuccessful.  A woman perfectly capable of answering the door or phone comes to the door, the officers explain their presence, ask for assurance that no firearms are on the premises, and the woman  runs inside the house without any explanation.  And this is what the Fourth Amendment prohibits? Ryburn is a perfect example of a court second guessing police responsibly during their job.

The 9th Circuit is destined to receive another record of reversals in the Supreme Court.

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