A federal judge has ruled that police have the right to enter homes without a warrant as long as they claim to be conducting a “welfare check.”
Lieutenant Joseph Buccilli did not violate the Fourth Amendment when he forced his way into the home of Timothy, LuAnn and Joseph Batt without a warrant in 2012, U.S. District Judge Frank Geraci Jr ruled earlier this year. The case currently is being appealed, and a ruling is expected this fall.
Buccilli was at the home to check on the welfare of Fred Puntoriero, LuAnn’s father, who suffered from dementia.
The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) is representing the family.
“Buccilli and another officer arrived at the Batt home and told Joe they wanted to conduct a welfare check on his grandfather,” the HSLSA reported. “After Joe respectfully refused, explaining that his grandfather had just been seen by a nurse’s aide who reported that all was well, Buccelli forced his way in.”
Geraci concluded in March that Buccilli was immune from the Fourth Amendment because police do not need warrants for welfare checks on at-risk adults, The New York Law Journal reported. Geraci upheld a similar decision made by U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie Foschio of the Western District of New York in July 2016.
“At issue in this case are so-called welfare checks, which we believe are being used by some officials to circumvent constitutional protection for private citizens to be safe and secure in their homes,” HSLDA contended.
The Batts – who are members of the HSLDA — contend Buccilli violated the Fourth Amendment by entering their home without a search warrant.
‘I Have a Right to Enter the House’
“Numerous opinions in federal courts all the way up to the Supreme Court specifically declare that warrantless welfare checks in the home are subject to traditional Fourth Amendment analysis,” according to the HSLDA. “Unless there is a clearly defined emergency, a state official simply cannot enter a home without a court order.”
Buccilli said a search warrant was not needed. The encounter was recorded on video.
“All I know is a county agency called,” Buccilli said. “And based on their request, I have a right to enter the house and forcibly, if need be, when somebody’s welfare is possibly in question. And that’s why I’m here. The allegation was made that they wanted a welfare check.”
Upon entering the home, Buccilli reported that Fred Puntoriero was in a good environment.
HSLDA said the case could have a major effect on privacy.
“The Fourth Amendment right of individuals to remain safe and secure in their own homes is not only a fundamental civil liberty; it complements the right of parents to direct the education of their children from the sanctuary of home,” HSLDA argued. “Although this case deals with an unwarranted and non-emergency welfare check on an elderly person, the same principles apply to welfare checks on younger people.”
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