My old boss, William Platt, a judge on the Pennsylvania Superior Court wrangled with the question of whether a citizen must allow the police to enter their home even if the police fail to show a valid warrant in the case Commonwealth v. Scott, decided in a non-precedential decision issued earlier today. Commonwealth v. Scott, 3637 EDA 2016 (Pa. Super. Ct., 12/13/2017).
The facts were these: the Allentown Police and Lehigh County Children and Youth services decided to conduct a home inspection where there was suspected child abuse. Upon approaching the home, the officer detected a strong foul smell or urine and feces. Upon approach to the doorway, the officers noticed that the home was littered with garbage.
On these facts, the police decided that they needed to take emergency custody of the children. Mr. Scott refused to allow the police to enter without a written warrant and instead closed the door in the face of the police. On these facts, Mr. Scott was found guilty of obstruction of justice and sentenced to jail.
What the Superior Court Said
Judge Platt, writing for the Superior Court upheld the conviction stating that once a police officer states his purpose clearly, the citizen must accept that purpose as true and is not entitled to see paperwork authorizing the police action. Thus, you can choose to ignore the police order, but, you do so at your own peril.
An interesting side question that the opinion leaves open is what would happen if a court later determined the police order had been illegal from the get go. The opinion makes no effort to investigate weather the police's conclusion that there was an emergency situation where the children had to be removed was a valid conclusion. If the police were mistaken, and the citizen resisted, could the citizen still be guilty of obstruction of justice? My gut feeling would be no, but, with the Courts as pro-police as they are, my guess is it could be "comply or else" pretty soon.