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Can you Obstruct police by refusing to answer the door?

Posted Thursday, April 18, 2019 by Andrew Charles Huff

Can a person commit the crime of “Obstruction” by refusing to open the door for officers when responding to a 911 call? This was the question before the Court on a case that started out as a call to police by neighbors and ended up with an arrest for not opening the door when officers arrived.

Mr. McLemore and his girlfriend were having an argument in their apartment that led to neighbors calling 911. When Shoreline police arrived, Mr. McLemore refused to open the door and shouted at police to go away. Fearing a crime being committed, police broke down the door but found no one hurt and no crime committed. However, police arrested McLemore for Obstruction of a law enforcement officer. The arrest appeared to be based on McLemore’s belligerent refusal to open his door.

On appeal, the Court reviewed whether Mr. McLemore committed Obstruction by not opening the door and yelling at officers. It should be pointed out that officers’ forced entry in McLemore’s home was lawful.

Mr. McLemore argued that he had no legal obligation to open the door to police, and even told his girlfriend to tell the officers she was okay. But the Court found that none of this is punishable “conduct” under the limited construction of the Obstruction statute. Further, the Court had a concern that the jury could have convicted on speech alone. Much of the evidence focused on what McLemore and the officers shouted at one another. There was no evidence presented that McLemore closed his door to prevent the officers’ entry or prevented his girlfriend from opening it. Therefore, the Court found that no crime was committed.

City of Shoreline v. McLemore, State Supreme Court 95707-0

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