Ryburn v. Huff

In addition to the Jones ruling yesterday, SCOTUS also released Ryburn v. Huff per curiam.

I’ll summarize hopefully accurately. The court found that it was a permissible entry into a person’s home based on her odd behavior even without a warrant.

Police were alerted to a potential school violence situation and went to the child’s house to investigate. The mother confirmed the presence of the child and refused entry of the house to the officers. Both mother and child exited the house to talk with officers. When police asked about the presence of firearms the mother turned and ran inside according to the finding of fact. Based on her ending the contact, and her refusal to grant them entry, police believed they were in danger and proceeded to enter the house sans warrant.

Police were in the house for approximately 5-10 minutes - they conducted no search of the property or of the people inside. They determined that there was no danger and left.

They were sued for violating the 4th amendment rights of the family for entering without a warrant. SCOTUS ruled that the entry was permissible.

Exigent circumstances are pretty clearly laid out, though there is no definite test. There must be imminent danger, potential escape of suspect, or destruction of evidence. This wasn’t the case here. Both mother and child were present in the house. The cops conducted no search when in the property. This is inconsistent with the imminent danger rationale, escape rationale, or destruction of evidence rationale.

People do lie, so do cops. Who knows what actually happened, but it’s irrelevant here though. Simply going back inside or even running doesn’t rise to the level of exigent circumstances. At least it shouldn’t. Exercising your right to terminate the contact shouldn’t be suspicious. Exercising your rights to not permit entry into your house should not be support of odd behavior.

The 4th amendment loses again. This was wrongly decided.

I agree, horrible decision, on the caveat that you are desribing it accurately. I’ll read the case and comment again if for some reason I think it’s a good decision at that time.

The decision though was based on the qualified immunity suit, so unless “clearly established law” was violated, the officer’s will prevail. CEL is not mentioned in the case, but that is the standard to decide a QI case.

Can something be quickly clarified? Is the scope of the holding limited to redressing a civil rights violation–and has no bearing on whether evidence gathered during the entry could be used in a trial?

It’s limited to the redress only. Other cases establish however, that they could have gathered evidence.

After reading the opinion I think the officers were originally justified in their entry of the home. However, after determining that there was no threat to their safety inside the home, the officers had a duty to follow the lawful and reasonable command for them to leave. If the occupants want to go outside and talk, fine, if they don’t, the officers should leave the premises, period, and if they feel their investigation as to the rumor of the boy’s threats was unfinished, pursue other investigatory angles.

The questions presented on the Petition for Certiorari deal with the Qualified Immunity issue.

Every 4th AM case is different. We could take an almost exact fact pattern in another civil case and the ruling would be different.

As far as from a criminal standpoint and the Exclusionary rule, states are free to adopt thier own laws that are more strict than the federal.

Based on the decision, from a substantial point of view, any evidence found inside in plain view could possibly be admitted at a criminal trial.

Then I must have mis-characterized the case somehow because initially you thought otherwise. What in your reading lead you to believe that the entry was justified?

OK, so the officers asked if there were firearms inside the house, and didn’t receive an answer - the lady just went back inside? And the officers decided that this meant they might be in danger? So they concluded that the right thing to do was enter the house? Where the danger might or might not be? as opposed to simply leaving the property?


Not that she just casually walked back in the house, but abruptly, or however it was phrased.

As noted here in Wardlow, sudden flight may give rise to a Terry Stop, and headlong flight the same, as in Ponce.

NOW, we are addressing the home, not on the street, but as the SC has stated, “A home entry is the chief evil in which the 4th AM is directed” or some such language.

Here in the case at hand, although not citing Wardlow or Ponce, they seem to equate such abrupt turn around when asked if there are any weapons in the house to justify a warrantless entry, where on the streets, it was a warrantless seizure of the person.


Sorry, no, you fairly well summarized…I just hadn’t thought thought the mother’s “running” inside through.

Of course I am accepting the officer’s accounts as true. If different facts are actually the case I’d have to see the facts.

It does seem to me that we’re beginning to get into an untenable situation if one thinks about custodial/non-custodial interrogation cases.

We’re told that if one is not in police custody, then evidence gathered is voluntary; but if the mere act of someone voluntarily ending an interrogation can be seen as suspicious, well, I’m wondering exactly what I can do to avoid waiving rights one way or the other.

I waive my right against self-incrimination if I don’t end a non-custodial interview; If I do, I have no right to be secure in my home.

This all hinges on how suspicious the woman’s behavior was when she “ran” away. Because I can imagine similar situations which might make me a bit nervous about my safety, and think it’s reasonable, I have got to agree with this case.

The mother testified that she was going inside to get her husband. I’m speculating here, but if she was on the front steps of her house I find it hard to believe she actually “ran” in the sense that both her feet were simultaneously off the ground. A short distance from her front door, and she literally turns and runs? Maybe she was making a hasty exit because she no longer wished to cooperate and the police embellished her actions.

She was already not cooperating with the police so it’s not a stretch to think she got fed up with their questions regarding firearms and was going to refer them to her husband. The police could have then characterized her behavior as running.

I do think her turning and leaving (running or not) was a bad tactical move. She should have never exited her house, but after she did so, she should have confirmed she was not being detained and asked if she was free to go, preceded by telling the police she would not answer any questions. Everything would probably have been avoided if she did that.

Imagine a similar scenario - Police are alerted to suspicious behavior or activity in your house. They come to question you, first by knocking, then by calling.

“This is the police, we want to ask you some questions.”
“F U”

Hmm, that’s suspicious, we should enter without a warrant? I dont think so.

Or the ever popular
Police: “Can we search your house/car?”
Citizen: “No.”
Police: “If you weren’t hiding anything, you’d let us search. Your refusal is suspicious. Please step aside …”

Ummm, what actually happened is just about the only relevant thing here. It was a very fact specific ruling, so “what actually happened” was vitally important.

If that were the only thing that happened here, you’d be absolutely right. But, as the opinion points out, that wasn’t the only thing that happened, and looking at the facts as discrete events ignores the totality of the circumstances.

The inflated rhetoric aside, I’m ha ing trouble getting worked up over a case where it seems to me the police were far more interested in stopping potential violence than gathering evidence or harassing people.

The part I was referring to about what actually happened was specifically about whether or not the woman actually ran into the house or simply turned to make a hasty retreat. She testified that she was going to get her husband. My point was that whether she actually ran or did not was irrelevant as both terminate the voluntary police contact.

Looking at the items discreetly is not the correct approach, I agree. The court opinion states as much and that seems correct.

Good intentions by the police don’t excuse bad behavior. The court obviously disagrees with me about the nature of the behavior.

Suddenly turning and running in the middle of a conversation immediately after being asked if there are any guns in the house is, to my, the police officers, and the courts mind, indicative of a potential threat as the officers testified. Yes, it did terminate the police contact, but that’s not all it did.

Again, I think the intentions of the police officers are pretty important in deciding whether or not their behavior was “bad” (or if you’re all legally “reasonable”). When it is pretty clear that the police were acting, not to try some kind of pretextual search or harass people, but rather to make sure no one gets hurt, I have a hard time getting exorcised.

That sounds an awful lot like basing a “reasonable suspicion” on refusal to answer questions.

Like Saint Cad says, the burden remains on the police to demonstrate reasonable suspicion of a threat, not to assume there was one based on a subject refusing to answer a question.


And, again, refusing to answer a question was not all that occurred, nor all the police relied on. The case gives a pretty good accounting of all the factors that the court, and police, considered in determining that it was reasonable for the police to act as they did. It’s certainly not a clear cut, easy, obvious case that it was reasonable, but neither is it clear cut, easy case that it wasn’t.