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Body Snatching

Here is the question:  Can an officer reach slightly into a person’s home to pull them out and arrest them?

If an officer has probable cause, but no arrest warrant, and the person opens up the door, they’re talking to the officer, and the suspect is just an inch inside his house, would it be a constitutional violation to reach in there and actually pull this guy out with just the probable cause alone? (With no consent, no exigency and no arrest warrant?)

Well, to answer that question, let’s go over a few cases. Number One: We do know that the threshold of a house is the bright line rule of where a person can be arrested.  Under Supreme Court precedents, this case is called U.S. v. Santana. And Santana was standing in her doorway when she was placed under arrest.  She ran into her house, the cops followed, and they arrested her.  Evidence was found during the arrest.  The Supreme Court basically held that the threshold is the demarcation line.  One foot forward, Santana’s on the porch, one foot back, she’s inside the house.  So if you’re in the doorframe, which is called the threshold, then the person can be arrested under the Fourth Amendment.  Now, we don’t have any cases from the US Supreme Court about pulling people out of their home. But we do have some cases about related issues involving the home.  It’s very clear that the US Supreme Court would not uphold any intrusion into the home to pull somebody out to arrest them unless you had an arrest warrant, exigency, or their consent.

Number Two: There is a case from the 11th circuit 2007.  What the court has said here is that there was an officer standing on the porch. And he reached into the suspect’s residence and pulled him out of the doorway and arrested him.  Now, the suspect says that he was behind the threshold of the door, completely in his residence.  The court found that going into his home and pulling him out violated the Fourth Amendment, because he didn’t have a warrant, consent, or exigent circumstances.  They also cited a US Supreme Court case called Kylo.

Kylo is a case involving the use of heat thermal imaging on a home.  They found that it also violated the Fourth Amendment.  And they found in that court, that unless a warrant is obtained, or there’s exigency, consent and so forth, any physical invasion of the home by even a fraction of an inch is too much.

Now, here is the answer to the question:  NO!  Unless a warrant is obtained or there’s exigency or consent, any physical invasion of the structure of the home by even a fraction of an inch is too much. 

That’s the spirit of Santana.  If the majority of their body is still in their home, go get the warrant, try to get their consent, or go in there with exigent circumstances if you have them.

Exigent circumstances include things like; if you leave and go get a warrant, you’ll come back and the guy will be gone.  He’ll escape.  Or, the person could be violent or a danger to somebody else inside the home.  Also evidence could be destroyed; they might have evidence on their person, clothes, or inside the home. Those are the kinds of things you’re looking for.  If you have that, I think you’re going to be fine. If not, follow the rules!

You don’t want to play fast and loose with the fourth amendment and be on the bad side of case law.  Don’t “body snatch” people out of their homes.  It’s the most protected area under the Fourth Amendment!


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