Justices Back Police Intervention Without a Warrant

The Supreme Court ruled 9-0 yesterday that police don’t need a warrant to enter a home and arrest people when then violent conflict is in progress.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Monday that the police do not need a warrant to enter a private home to break up a fight in which injuries have occurred or are foreseeable.


“We think the officers’ entry here was plainly reasonable under the circumstances,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said in his opinion for the court after describing the facts of the case. These included sounds of “thumping and crashing” and cries of “stop, stop” and “get off me” filling the night air as four Brigham City police officers approached a home where neighbors had called to complain about a loud party. Peering through a rear window, the officers saw one person spitting blood after being punched in the face by another. According to the Utah Supreme Court, the observed injury was not serious enough to justify entry without a warrant. But “the role of a peace officer includes preventing violence and restoring order,” Chief Justice Roberts said, adding, “An officer is not like a boxing (or hockey) referee, poised to stop a bout only if it becomes too one-sided.”

While I’m not fond of the idea of policemen peering into the windows of private homes, this ruling strikes me as a no-brainer in the specific instance. Obviously, police have some duty to safeguard the safety of citizenry and hardly have time to get a warrant in

Of course, as with Terry Stops and other exceptions to the barely-standing 4th Amendment, abuse is inevitable. Police will begin claiming that they though a fight was underway or about to commence as justification for fast action on their part. Courts will be reluctant to dismiss evidence against criminals found in such a manner if the story is even remotely plausible.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Darn it, now I have to cancel Fight Club.