A homeschool family in New York is asserting their Fourth Amendment rights by appealing a court’s decision made in a police officer’s favor after he broke into their home without a search warrant.
Police officer Joseph Buccilli forced his way into LuAnn, Joseph and Timothy Batt’s home – a home invasion they argue took place not only without a warrant, but without any emergency reason whatsoever.
‘Battle for the front door’
Represented by attorneys at the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) – a Christian nonprofit organization advocating the right parents to teach their own – the Batts are appealing their case that the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects them from “unreasonable searches.”
In the lawsuit filed with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, HSLDA attorneys are letting the family’s constitutional rights do the talking.
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized,” the Fourth Amendment declares.
Homeschoolers across America could possibly look to this case as precedent in the future – if the Batts win.
“[This case is relevant to homeschoolers because parents educating their own have sometimes] found an investigative social worker at their front door, often accompanied by uniformed police officers,” HSLDA explained the year of the incident back in 2012. “These authorities were typically investigating anonymous tips that didn’t have much to do with homeschooling itself – often something like this: ‘The children are always home, they don’t go to school, and the family seems really religious.'”
It is argued that a forced entry – even by state authorities – can be a terrifying experience for the entire family.
“[Homeschoolers] soon learned that front-door encounters with an investigative social worker could be traumatic for both parents and children alike,” HSLDA attorneys continued. “Protecting our member families from such unwarranted investigations was what drew HSLDA into what we call ‘the battle for the front door’ – defending Fourth Amendment rights.”
My home is not your home …
According to the officer, he can enter anyone’s house whenever he wants to – or sees fit.
“Buccilli, a police officer in Orchard City, barged into the family’s home without a warrant after being told he had no permission to enter,” WND reported. “He claimed social services had asked him to do a ‘welfare check’ at the home. According to an HSLDA brief to the 2nd Circuit, which asks that the lower court’s decision to award Buccilli immunity in the case be overturned, the officer admitted he knew nothing about any allegations of wrongdoing or any emergency and didn’t know who asked for the ‘welfare check.’”
The incident occurred back in 2012 when Joe Batt arrived home to find policers camped out in front of his house, wanting to see his identification before entering – an idea he was not comfortable with.
“Lt. Buccilli angrily told Joe that he didn’t need a warrant to conduct a welfare check,” HSLDA Senior Counsel James R. Mason recounted back in December 2012. “He said he would enter without permission and arrest Joe if he obstructed him in any way.”
The homeschooling father was then surprised to find that Lt. Buccilli followed him when he stepped inside his house to make a phone call to his older brother, Dan, who was a law enforcement officer.
“Please don’t come in,” Batt pleaded, according to HSLDA. “I am making a private call. You do not have permission to come in.”
Nothing could convince Buccilli that he did not have the right of breaking and entering into Batt’s home.
“But the officer stuck his foot into the doorway and prevented Joe from closing it,” Mason continued. “He then pushed the door open and stepped inside. Inside the home, one of Joe’s younger siblings finally reached Dan on the home phone and handed the receiver to Lt. Buccilli. Lt. Buccilli announced over the phone that he didn’t need a warrant and hung up, saying that Joe didn't know the law and that Buccilli had a right to come in without a warrant.”
Buccilli was actually at the house to check on Batt’s wife’s elderly father, Fred, who had been suffering from dementia – thinking that this gave him the right to break into the home.
“The officer pushed past Joe and went into the next room to see Fred,” the homeschool attorney retold. “He lectured poor Fred – who had been visibly upset by the commotion – about how he had the right to forcibly enter a home when checking on the welfare of an adult.”
Badge of immunity?
The forceful officer proceeded to scold Batt for trying to exercise his constitutional rights inside his own home.
“[I will] inform adult protective services about [your] lack of cooperation,” Buccilli threatened Batt when departing. “You should not pretend to know the law.”
While in the Batt’s home, Buccilli threatened to arrest anyone who obstructed him in any way.
It was contended that the state often uses such situations – involving homeschooling family members with medical conditions – to violate their constitutional rights.
“Protecting [homeschooling] families from such unwarranted investigations was what drew HSLDA into what we call ‘the battle for the front door’ – defending Fourth Amendment rights,” Mason insisted, according to a 2012 WND report. “Now, as many homeschooling families are beginning to care for aging relatives, we are seeing new challenges in the battle for the front door.”
Today, with the case moving forward, HSLDA litigation attorney, Darren Jones, asserts that the Constitution stands firmly on the Batt’s side.
“[The Fourth Amendment] doesn’t have an exception based on a ‘welfare check,'” concluded Jones, WND reported on Thursday. “Before police can come into a home, they must have either a warrant or some clearly defined exception – like an emergency or a hot pursuit of a suspect.”