The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals may have just dealt a serious blow to the U.S. Constitution.
In a unanimous decision earlier this month the Court determined that law enforcement officers are not required to present a warrant or charges before forcibly entering a person’s home, searching it, and confiscating their firearms if they believe it is in the individual’s best interests.
The landmark suit was brought before the court by Krysta Sutterfield of Milwaukee, who had recently visited a psychiatrist for outpatient therapy resulting from some bad news that she had received. According to court records Sutterfield had expressed a suicidal thought during the visit, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, when she said “I guess I’ll go home and blow my brains out.” This prompted her doctor to contact police.
For several hours the police searched for Sutterfield, speaking with neighbors and awaiting her return home. They received an update from her psychiatrist who said that Sutterfield had contacted her and advised that she was not in need of assistance and to “call off” the search, which the doctor did not agree to. Police eventually left and Sutterfield returned home, only to be visited later that evening by the lead detective on the case:
Sutterfield answered Hewitt’s knock at the front door but would not engage with her, except to state repeatedly that she had “called off” the police and to keep shutting the door on Hewitt. Sutterfield would not admit Hewitt to the residence, and during the exchange kept the outer storm door closed and locked. Unable to gain admittance to the house, Hewitt concluded that the police would have to enter it forcibly.
Sutterfield called 911 in an effort to have the officers leave; as a result of that call, the ensuing events were recorded by the emergency call center. Sutterfield can be heard on the recording telling the officers that she was fine and that she did not want anyone to enter her residence.
After informing Sutterfield of his intention to open the storm door forcibly if she did not unlock it herself, Berken yanked the door open and entered the house with the other officers to take custody of Sutterfield pursuant to the statement of detention. A brief struggle ensued.
Sutterfield can be heard on the 911 recording demanding both that the officers let go of her and that they leave her home. (Sutterfield would later say that the officers tackled her.) Sutterfield was handcuffed and placed in the officers’ custody.
At that point the officers conducted a protective sweep of the home. In the kitchen, officer James Floriani observed a compact disc carrying case in plain view. He picked up the soft-sided case, which was locked, and surmised from the feel and weight of its contents that there might be a firearm inside. He then forced the case open and discovered a semi-automatic handgun inside; a yellow smiley-face sticker was affixed to the barrel of the gun, covering the muzzle. Also inside the case were concealed-carry firearm licenses from multiple jurisdictions other than Wisconsin. Elsewhere in the kitchen the officers discovered a BB gun made to realistically resemble a Glock 29 handgun.
The contents of the case were seized along with the BB gun and placed into police inventory for safekeeping.
Berken would later state that he authorized the seizure of the handgun in order to keep them out of the hands of a juvenile, should a juvenile enter the house unaccompanied by an adult while Sutterfield remained in the hospital.
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