- The Washington Times - Monday, April 24, 2006


The Supreme Court yesterday considered whether police officers who yelled their presence but failed to knock when entering a loud house party violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches.

“Why isn’t screaming, ‘Police,’ enough?” asked Justice Antonin Scalia, who described requiring more as “absurd.”

A decision in the case could be significant if the justices want to set a standard for police to use to enter homes without warrants during emergencies.

But the justices showed little desire to use “the party case” — as Justice Stephen G. Breyer called it — to set such an important requirement for police.

Brigham City, Utah, wants the justices to reverse the Utah Supreme Court’s ruling that police were not justified in entering the house without a warrant.

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 an officer yelled, “Police,” at a screen door.

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.

Once the adults realized the officers were inside the house, authorities said, they became abusive. The adults were charged with disorderly conduct, intoxication and contributing to the delinquency of a minor — all misdemeanors.

A trial judge threw out the charges against the adults and ruled that police had violated the Fourth Amendment by failing to knock before entering the house.

“Isn’t there something bizarre about saying reasonableness requires a totally futile gesture?” Justice David H. Souter asked Michael P. Studebaker, who represents the adults.

Mr. Studebaker argued that police cannot break up a party without a warrant. “If they can make their presence known inside the home, they can make their presence known outside the home,” he said.

Jeffrey S. Gray, Utah’s assistant attorney general, argued that the Utah courts confused the situation by requiring police to choose between acting as a “caretaker” for the community to prevent violence and as law-enforcement officers gathering evidence of a crime.

In other action yesterday, the court:

• Refused to get involved in a fight over a Jesus poster that a New York kindergarten student submitted for a class assignment on ways to save the environment.

• Asked for the Bush administration’s views in a patent dispute between Microsoft Corp. and AT&T; Corp. over Windows programs distributed overseas.

• Said it would not intervene in a dispute over the family name “Brennan’s” between prominent restaurateurs in New Orleans.

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