US Supreme Court Unanimous holding:
Allowing members of the news media to enter private residences along with law enforcement officers during the execution of arrest or search warrants violates the Fourth Amendment rights of the residents.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES WILSON ET AL. v. LAYNE, DEPUTY UNITED STATES MARSHAL, ET AL.CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT No. 98-83. Argued March 24, 1999-Decided May 24, 1999
CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court:
While executing an arrest warrant in a private home, police officers invited representatives of the media to accompany them. We hold that such a "media ride along" does violate the Fourth Amendment, but that because the state of the law was not clearly established at the time the search in this case took place, the officers are entitled to the defense of qualified immunity.
In April 1992, the Circuit Court for Montgomery County issued three arrest warrants for Dominic Wilson, one for each of his probation violations. The warrants were each addressed to "any duly authorized peace officer," and commanded such officers to arrest him and bring him "immediately" before the Circuit Court to answer an indictment as to his probation violation. The warrants made no mention of media presence or assistance.
In the early morning hours of April 16, 1992, a Gunsmoke team of Deputy United States Marshals and Montgomery County Police officers assembled to execute the Dominic Wilson warrants.
The team was accompanied by a reporter and a photographer from the Washington Post, who had been invited by the Marshals to accompany them on their mission as part of a Marshal's Service ride-along policy.
At around 6:45 a.m., the officers, with media representatives in tow, entered the dwelling at 909 North Stone Street Avenue in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Rockville.
Petitioners Charles and Geraldine Wilson were still in bed when they heard the officers enter the home. Petitioner Charles Wilson, dressed only in a pair of briefs, ran into the living room to investigate. Discovering at least five men in street clothes with guns in his living room, he angrily demanded that they state their business, and repeatedly cursed the officers.
Believing him to be an angry Dominic Wilson, the officers quickly subdued him on the floor.
Geraldine Wilson next entered the living room to investigate, wearing only a nightgown. She observed her husband being restrained by the armed officers. When their protective sweep was completed, the officers learned that Dominic Wilson was not in the house, and they departed.
During the time that the officers were in the home, the Washington Post photographer took numerous pictures. The print reporter was also apparently in the living room observing the confrontation between the police and Charles Wilson. At no time, however, were the reporters involved in the execution of the arrest warrant.
Brief for Federal Respondents Layne et al. 4. The Washington Post never published its photographs of the incident.
Petitioners sued the law enforcement officials in their personal capacities for money damages under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U. S. 388 (1971) (the U. S. Marshals Service respondents) and, Rev. Stat. §1979, 42 U. S. C. §1983 (the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department respondents).
They contended that the officers' actions in bringing members of the media to observe and record the attempted execution of the arrest warrant violated their Fourth Amendment rights. The District Court denied respondents' motion for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity.
On interlocutory appeal to the Court of Appeals, a divided panel reversed and held that respondents were entitled to qualified immunity. The case was twice reheard en banc, where a divided Court of Appeals again upheld the defense of qualified immunity. The Court of Appeals declined to decide whether the actions of the police violated the Fourth Amendment.
It concluded instead that because no court had held (at the time of the search) that media presence during a police entry into a residence violated the Fourth Amendment, the right allegedly violated by petitioners was not "clearly established" and thus qualified immunity was proper. 141 F. 3d 111 (CA4 1998).
Five judges dissented, arguing that the officers' actions did violate the Fourth Amendment, and that the clearly established protections of the Fourth Amendment were violated in this case. Id., at 119 (opinion of Murnaghan, J.)
Recognizing a split among the Circuits on this issue, we now affirm the Court of Appeals, although by different reasoning.
Here, of course, the officers had such a warrant, and they were undoubtedly entitled to enter the Wilson home in order to execute the arrest warrant for Dominic Wilson.
But it does not necessarily follow that they were entitled to bring a newspaper reporter and a photographer with them. In Horton v. California, 496 U. S. 128, 140 (1990), we held "[i]f the scope of the search exceeds that permitted by the terms of a validly issued warrant or the character of the relevant exception from the warrant requirement, the subsequent seizure is unconstitutional without more."
While this does not mean that every police action while inside a home must be explicitly authorized by the text of the warrant, see Michigan v. Summers, 452 U. S. 692, 705 (1981) (Fourth Amendment allows temporary detainer of homeowner while police search the home pursuant to warrant), the Fourth Amendment does require that police actions in execution of a warrant be related to the objectives of the authorized intrusion, see Arizona v. Hicks, 480 U. S. 321, 325 (1987). See also Maryland v. Garrison, 480 U. S. 79, 87 (1987)
("[T]he purposes justifying a police search strictly limit the permissible extent of the search").
Certainly the presence of reporters inside the home was not related to the objectives of the authorized intrusion. Respondents concede that the reporters did not engage in the execution of the warrant, and did not assist the police in their task. The reporters therefore were not present for any reason related to the justification for police entry into the home-the apprehension of Dominic Wilson.
This is not a case in which the presence of the third parties directly aided in the execution of the warrant. Where the police enter a home under the authority of a warrant to search for stolen property, the presence of third parties for the purpose of identifying the stolen property has long been approved by this Court and our common-law tradition.
Respondents argue that the presence of the Washington Post reporters in the Wilsons' home nonetheless served a number of legitimate law enforcement purposes. They first assert that officers should be able to exercise reasonable discretion about when it would "further their law enforcement mission to permit members of the news media to accompany them in executing a warrant." Brief for Respondents Layne et al. 15.
But this claim ignores the importance of the right of residential privacy at the core of the Fourth Amendment. It may well be that media ride-alongs further the law enforcement objectives of the police in a general sense, but that is not the same as furthering the purposes of the search.
Were such generalized "law enforcement objectives" themselves sufficient to trump the Fourth Amendment, the protections guaranteed by that Amendment's text would be significantly watered down.
Respondents next argue that the presence of third parties could serve the law enforcement purpose of publicizing the government's efforts to combat crime, and facilitate accurate reporting on law enforcement activities.
There is certainly language in our opinions interpreting the First Amendment which points to the importance of "the press" in informing the general public about the administration of criminal justice. In Cox Broadcasting Corp. v. Cohn, 420 U. S. 469, 491-492 (1975), for example, we said "in a society in which each individual has but limited time and resources with which to observe at first hand the operations of his government, he relies necessarily upon the press to bring to him in convenient form the facts of those operations." See also Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U. S. 555, 572-573 (1980).
No one could gainsay the truth of these observations, or the importance of the First Amendment in protecting press freedom from abridgement by the government. But the Fourth Amendment also protects a very important right, and in the present case it is in terms of that right that the media ride-alongs must be judged.
This is an abreviated version of the entire case. The URL above presents the entire case.
From this it appears that Boks' decision to let Dana Bartholomew and the Daily News photographer ride along with the ACTF and LAPD as well as Animal Services ACOs for publicized "openness" of ACTF/LAAS' operations was a direct violation of Ron Mason's Fourth Amendment rights and was not trumped by the media's freedom of the press.
Even more so, in the decision above, the photos were never published. The Mason photos were. Also, City TV was part of the media ride along and the footage of the raid was broadcast on television.
Humm. Lawsuit here we come.