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May 16, 2017

Like this castle, the Fourth Amendment offers private citizens protection.

Is Your Home Your Castle—or Not?

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Darren Jones DARREN JONES Litigation attorney

Home School Legal Defense Association is appealing a judge’s erroneous ruling in favor of a police officer who forcibly entered a member family’s home.

Earlier this spring, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York determined that Lt. Joseph Buccilli could not have known he was doing wrong because the law in question is not specific enough. We have appealed in order to show not only that the officer clearly violated the Fourth Amendment, but that he did so in a way that adds to a troubling law enforcement trend.

The case began late in 2012 when HSLDA sued on behalf of Timothy, LuAnn and Joseph (Joe) Batt. On April 17, 2012, Buccilli forced his way into the Batt home without a warrant, ostensibly to investigate a tip alleging concerns about the care of LuAnn’s elderly father.

Dodging the Constitution?

At issue in this case are so-called welfare checks, which we believe are being used by some officials to circumvent constitutional protection for private citizens to be safe and secure in their homes.

Thanks in part to advocacy by HSLDA, most social services investigators no longer contend that they are exempt from Fourth Amendment restrictions. Instead, it seems more and more caseworkers are asking police to conduct “welfare checks,” apparently under the belief that the U.S. Constitution does not require warrants for state officials who are just checking on someone’s safety.

And in fact, the Western District judge did determine that the officer in the Batt case does enjoy qualified immunity, without ruling on whether he violated the Constitution.

Appealing to the Law

We contend that the judge is wrong and that the Batts’ rights were violated.

Numerous opinions in federal courts all the way up to the Supreme Court specifically declare that warrantless welfare checks in the home are subject to traditional Fourth Amendment analysis. Unless there is a clearly defined emergency, a state official simply cannot enter a home without a court order.

We intend to make this case when we file our opening brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The outcome is important not just for the family’s sake, but because of the principles involved. As HSLDA has held since the time of our founding in 1983, the Fourth Amendment right of individuals to be protected in their own homes is not only a fundamental civil liberty; it complements the right of parents to direct the education of their children from the sanctuary of home.

As Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Cooley stated in 1868, “The maxim that ‘every man’s house is his castle’ is made a part of our constitutional law in the clauses prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures, and has always been looked upon as of high value to the citizen.”

For more information, visit our Batt case page.