In April, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts expanded the circumstances under which police could enter a home without a search warrant.
The facts of the case are of a nature almost calculated to extinguish sympathy with the defendant. As reported in the Lynn Daily Item, the Duncan family mistreated their dogs and left them outside in January of 2011.
A neighbor called the police, and the police found two dogs dead in the front yard and a third starving to death.
Normally, the Fourth Amendment prevents access to the home or the “curtilage” (surroundings) of a home without a warrant based on probable cause. However, the Fourth Amendment is also honeycombed through with two centuries’ worth of exceptions and special circumstances driven by facts such as these. Here, the court ruled that the already-existing “exigent circumstances” exception to needing a warrant in order to save human life, also applied to animal life. The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, among others, were pleased at the outcome.
We are not altogether so pleased at the implications of this ruling. Let me explain why.
After months of pressure, Essex County District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett has completed his investigation into the Sept. 5, 2013 killing of Army Specialist Denis Reynoso at his home in Lynn. Yesterday, he released his finding that police were justified in killing him. His findings could be summed up as, “Sure, he hadn’t committed any crime, and sure, the police came into his home without a warrant, but he was acting all cray-cray, so we’re good.”
DA Blodgett’s elaborate work of speculative fiction provides several specific reasons making it justifiable for armed intruders to have killed Spc. Reynoso in his home.
We like to think that we’re safe in our homes, and that if we need the police, we can call on them to help protect us. That’s what we tell our children – I have two – and I’d like to think it was more consistently the truth than it is.
Today’s story comes from Lynn, MA, which in September saw an Army reservist shot to death in his home by police in front of his five-year-old son.
Police were called after Spc. Reynoso yelled at a man, who then drove away. Two police officers arrived at the Reynoso home on Newcastle Street in the King’s Lynne housing complex, and they appear to have entered the home without either a warrant or the permission of the residents, which would clearly violate the Fourth Amendment. The police version of events is that during the ensuing argument, Spc. Reynoso lunged for one of the police officers’ weapon, and fearing for their lives, the police fatally shot him. The family point out that there is no way to confirm that Spc. Reynoso did lunge for an officer’s gun, and no public information as to why he might do so; that he was unarmed, that they shot him anyway, and that they then searched the house for any drugs or contraband that would provide justification for their actions, without a warrant and without finding anything.
The excuse used by the police – that he “lunged” for the gun – is inherently unprovable. It’s such a hoary old chestnut when it comes to defending the indefensible that it has been immortalized in song. Perhaps that’s why they thought of it.