Court To Officers: You Can’t Charge Someone With Resisting Arrest When You Broke The Law With A Warrantless Entry
from the is-that-my-petard?-put-me-up-on-it! dept
And it happens so often. Cops believe that since they are (affirmatively) law enforcement officers and the people they target are (only allegedly) criminals, they are firmly in the right, no matter what they do or what rights they violate. For some reason, they tend to believe their powers are divinely granted, rather than subject to consent of the policed.
So, they fuck up. A lot. But only rarely do they get called out for it. It always takes a lawsuit or a challenge raised by the person accused of crimes. In a majority of cases, they simply get away with it. Not here. Not in this case, brought to us (but without a link to the opinion, what even the fuck John Wesley Hall) by FourthAmendment.com. In this case, a bog standard charge for lack of immediate compliance (resisting arrest) gets tossed out because the cops broke the law first.
It’s a short decision [PDF], but it’s more than enough to make it clear that when the cops do the lawbreaking first, they’re not allowed to arrest someone for resisting an unlawful seizure. Here’s how things went en route to Daniel Peacock being charged with resisting arrest, as recounted by the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
Deputy Jake Staggs testified that on 29 January 2020, his sergeant directed him to assist with executing a search warrant for stolen property at a home in Henderson County. Staggs and a group of six-to-eight officers arrived at the home around midday, knocked on the door and announced their presence, heard no response, and entered. The officers then forced entry into a locked bedroom where Defendant was lying in bed with a sheet over his head and body.
Defendant did not comply with orders to roll onto his stomach and place his hands behind his back and instead remained in place on the bed with his hands covering his face. Staggs pulled Defendant onto the floor and commanded him to get on his stomach. Defendant remained tense and failed to comply with instructions, then reached under the bed. Staggs struck Defendant in the head to “cause him pain compliance,” and was able to get Defendant’s hands behind his back. Staggs placed Defendant in handcuffs and cited him at 1:14 pm for resisting a public officer.
Pay attention to the time stamp in that last sentence. It’s important.
Also, take note of some other things that aren’t ultimately dispositive, but are worth pointing out. First, there’s the fact that the testifying deputy had no idea how many officers were actually involved in this search. That seems like the sort of thing that should have been noted in the post-raid paperwork.
Second, there’s this ridiculous phrase, which mangles English in a way only cops are capable of doing: “cause him pain compliance.” The strike was meant to “cause pain.” The pain may have been useful in securing compliance. But you cannot “cause pain compliance.” That’s pure copspeak, and it shouldn’t go unnoted.
Moving on. Here’s where the charge of resisting arrest becomes a problem. For someone to resist arrest, they must be subject to a lawful arrest. At the point this all happened, Peacock was doing nothing more than hiding under the covers while surrounded by trespassers, not law enforcement officers.
Staggs testified that he did not have a search warrant when the officers entered the home, and that he never saw a search warrant for the home.
Whoops. That’s a huge, unforced error. Sure, Deputy Staggs claimed his supervisor “directed” him to assist in warrant service, but if there’s no warrant then there’s no warrant service. Apparently, Deputy Staggs saw the warrant for the first time while testifying in criminal court. And that didn’t go well for the deputy.
[DEFENDANT:] And this was the search warrant that you were referring to that you were executing?
. . .
[DEFENDANT:] And what is the date and time on that?
[STAGGS:] 1/29 of 2020 at 2:15 p.m. by Susan Hoots (phonetic).
[DEFENDANT:] That’s more than one hour after you gave Mr. Peacock his citation; isn’t that right?
[STAGGS:] That’s correct according to that.
Yeah, that’s a problem. If officers are in a house without a warrant — and without a plausible law enforcement excuse to be there (exigent circumstances, community caretaking, etc.) — then they’re not really law enforcement officers. They’re just people trespassing on someone else’s property. And, in that capacity, they’re legally incapable of performing law enforcement duties.
So, when Peacock resisted, he wasn’t resisting a lawful order or even the commands of a law enforcement officer with the law on his side. He was simply ignoring someone who had illegally entered his home.
Here, the evidence viewed in the light most favorable to the State shows the following: Officers arrived at the home around midday on 29 January 2020 without a warrant. At that time, no exigent circumstances justified their entry. The officers knocked on the door, announced their presence, and heard no response. The officers nevertheless entered the home, where they encountered Defendant. When Defendant did not comply with orders, the officers placed him in handcuffs and issued a citation for resisting a public officer at 1:14 pm. A search warrant authorizing the officers’ presence inside the home was not issued until 2:15 pm, one hour after the officers encountered Defendant.
You can’t resist an arrest that isn’t legally an arrest. The trial court blew this one when it decided otherwise. The state Appeals Court rights that wrong.
[T]he State failed to prove that the officers whom Defendant resisted were discharging or attempting to discharge an official duty at the time they encountered Defendant…
That’s a legal requirement when bringing resisting arrest charges. Without this, officers have nothing. And, at the end of this decision, that’s exactly what they’re left with: a dismissal of charges and a vacated sentence.
The Constitution only asks officers to do the job right. Haste makes waste. And assuming you’ll just get away with it is an assumption too far, at least in this case. The court isn’t telling law enforcement officers things they don’t already know. It’s just making sure they aren’t able to benefit from breaking the rules.