Entering a home without a warrant because of an imminent threat of danger. Ryburn v. Huff

Petitioners Darin Ryburn and Edmundo Zepeda, along with two other officers from the Burbank Police Department, responded to a call from Bellarmine-Jefferson High School in Burbank, California. When the officers arrived at the school, the principal informed them that a student, Vincent Huff, was rumored to have written a letter threatening to “shoot up” the school. The principal reported that many parents, after hearing the rumor, had decided to keep their children at home. The principal expressed concern for the safety of her students and requested that the officers investigate the threat.

The officers decided to continue the investigation by interviewing Vincent. When the officers arrived at Vincent’s house, Officer Zepeda knocked on the door and announced several times that the officers were with the Burbank Police Department. No one answered the door or otherwise responded to Officer Zepeda’s knocks. Sergeant Ryburn then called the home telephone. The officers could hear the phone ringing inside the house, but no one answered.

Sergeant Ryburn next tried calling the cell phone of Vincent’s mother, Mrs. Huff. Mrs. Huff informed Sergeant Ryburn that she was inside the house. Sergeant Ryburn then inquired about Vincent’s location, and Mrs. Huff informed him that Vincent was inside with her. Sergeant Ryburn told Mrs. Huff that he and the other officers were outside and requested to speak with her, but Mrs. Huff hung up the phone.

One or two minutes later, Mrs. Huff and Vincent walked out of the house and stood on the front steps. In Sergeant Ryburn’s experience as a juvenile bureau sergeant, it was “extremely unusual” for a parent to decline an officer’s request to interview a juvenile inside. Sergeant Ryburn also found it odd that Mrs. Huff never asked the officers the reason for their visit.

After Mrs. Huff declined Sergeant Ryburn’s request to continue the discussion inside, Sergeant Ryburn asked her if there were any guns in the house. Mrs. Huff responded by “immediately turn[ing] around and r[unning] into the house.” Sergeant Ryburn, who was “scared because [he] didn’t know what was in that house” and had “seen too many officers killed,” entered the house behind her. Vincent entered the house behind Sergeant Ryburn, and Officer Zepeda entered after Vincent.

Upon entering the house, the officers remained in the living room with Mrs. Huff and Vincent. Eventually, Vincent’s father entered the room and challenged the officers’ authority to be there. The officers remained inside the house for a total of 5 to 10 minutes. During that time, the officers talked to Mr. Huff and Vincent. They did not conduct any search of Mr. Huff, Mrs. Huff, or Vincent, or any of their property. The officers ultimately concluded that the rumor about Vincent was false, and they reported their conclusion to the school.

The Huffs brought this action against the officers alleging that the officers violated the Huffs’ Fourth Amendment rights by entering their home without a warrant.

Reasonable police officers in petitioners’ position could have come to the conclusion that the Fourth Amendment permitted them to enter the Huff residence if there was an objectively reasonable basis for fearing that violence was imminent. And a reasonable officer could have come to such a conclusion based on the facts as found by the District Court.

Ryburn v. Huff, 565 U.S. 469 (2012), full opinion here: https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/565/469/#tab-opinion-1963698

Anton Vialtsin, Esq.
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