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District of Columbia v. Wesby


Source: NBC News
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District of Columbia v. Wesby is an undecided Supreme Court case. It presents two key issues:

“(1) Whether police officers who found late-night partiers inside a vacant home belonging to someone else had probable cause to arrest the partiers for trespassing under the Fourth Amendment, and in particular whether, when the owner of a vacant home informs police that he has not authorized entry, an officer assessing probable cause to arrest those inside for trespassing may discredit the suspects’ questionable claims of an innocent mental state; and (2) whether, even if there was no probable cause to arrest the apparent trespassers, the officers were entitled to qualified immunity because the law was not clearly established in this regard.”

The first part of Issue 1 states, “Whether police officers who found late-night partiers inside a vacant home belonging to someone else had probable cause to arrest the partiers for trespassing under the Fourth Amendment…” Of the first part, findings rule in favor of District of Columbia. Under Section 22-3302 of the Code of the District of Columbia,

“Any person who, without lawful authority, shall enter, or attempt to enter, any private dwelling, building, or other property, or part of such dwelling, building, or other property, against the will of the lawful occupant or of the person lawfully in charge thereof, or being therein or thereon, without lawful authority to remain therein or thereon shall refuse to quit the same on the demand of the lawful occupant, or of the person lawfully in charge thereof, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor”

As said section is a derivation from the Fourth Amendment, the amendment giving people increased security in their residences, it is a stand-in for said part of issue. The only probable cause necessary under said section is that a reasonable person would reasonably assume that the inhabitants of the property did not lawfully enter. As, according to the issue statement, the defendants were late night partiers, a reasonable person could have made that assumption reasonably.

As for the second part of Issue 1, “…when the owner of a vacant home informs police that he has not authorized entry, an officer assessing probable cause to arrest those inside for trespassing may discredit the suspects’ questionable claims of an innocent mental state.” Of this second part, findings are in favor of District of Columbia. As stated in Section 22-3302, there is no need for mens rea: the crime does not require it. Therefore, questionable or credible as suspects may be, pertaining to the crime of trespass, an officer may discredit these claims.

And for Issue 2, “even if there was no probable cause to arrest the apparent trespassers, the officers were entitled to qualified immunity because the law was not clearly established in this regard.” The findings are in favor of Wesby. This delves into more theoretical realms. If this was to be in favor of District of Columbia, if the law was not clearly established, than officers would be immune from liability incurred from arrests. This may cause a need for every action to be defined by law, which does not serve law’s purpose. In extreme cases, because the law is not clear about consumption, or movement, there may be reason, under supposed precedent, to arrest with immunity. Therefore, the best course of action is to rule in favor of Wesby.

In totality, the findings are, for the particular case, in favor of District of Columbia. Issue 1 is more pertinent to the case, while Issue 2, not as much.

Disagree? Comment below.

Sources:

http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/district-of-columbia-v-wesby/

https://beta.code.dccouncil.us/dc/council/code/sections/22-3302.html

https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/fourth_amendment

https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/bill-of-rights-transcript

Disclaimer:  This column is not an adequate or appropriate replacement or substitute for legal advice. The Northwest Youth Journal or any of its affiliates are void of any liability stemming from this article. Contact your lawyer for legal advice. Furthermore, this is not an official decision. This is an opinion from one of the writers of the NWYJ.

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