No fourth amendment liability in gun-seizure case

This search and seizure case involves assault weapons in Connecticut. The police entered this guy's home to retrieve weapons that plaintiff was not supposed to have because they mistakenly thought he had a felony conviction. He sues the officers for entering his home without a warrant. Plaintiff loses the case.

The case is Kaminsky v. Schirio, a summary order issued on January 24. The FBI told local police that plaintiff had a felony conviction and therefore was not allowed to possess any firearms. The police showed up at plaintiff's house, and plaintiff recognized one of them, so he said, "What's up Walt?" Plaintiff then waved the police into his house. Big mistake. When the police entered the house, plaintiff voluntarily surrendered his guns. The other cops waited outside and minded their own bees-wax, declining to search the property. A few days later, the police returned to plaintiff's home, and he turned over more guns. In all, plaintiff had 59 firearms in his house, there of which were illegal assault weapons.

In this fourth amendment case, plaintiff says the police had no right to be in his house. The Court (Katzmann, Hall and Lynch) disagrees. Kaminsky consented to their entry after they said, "can we come in?" Emphasis in "we," which means more than one. The officers who entered the house did so at plaintiff's invitation. Now, as it happens, plaintiff was not actually a convicted felon. His conviction from 1964 was not a felony at the time. But, the Court says, that is no reason to find the police violated the Fourth Amendment in entering the house, as it provides no basis to believe that plaintiff's consent for the police to enter was coerced.

So what about the officers who did not enter the house? Plaintiff sues them as well, claiming they were present on the curtilage and their mere presence violated the Constitution. This claim also fails under qualified immunity. Even if the area was curtilage, the officers reasonably believed the area in which they waited was not curtilage. The opinion is not clear as to why this is so, but in the statement of fact, the court notes the officers were standing near a public lake. While more recent Supreme Court cases may call the district court's analysis on the curtilage issue into question, under qualified immunity principles, we look at the law as it existed at the time of the alleged constitutional violation. As the officers are not expected to anticipate those developments, they did not knowingly violate clearly-established law. The case is dismissed.