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Rodrick Parker

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Rodrick Parker

Oral Argument Essay

PLSC 358/558

Dr. Gwendolyn Torges



Pending. Case has not been decided as of yet.


March 16th of 2008, Officers of the Metropolitan Police Department responded to a noise complaint that was alleged to come from a house party. When the responding officers arrived on scene there was loud music permeating from the house from the complaint. Once the officers gained entry to the residence they observed the occupants, which included Mr. Theodore Wesby, drinking and watching “scantily clad women with money tucked into garter belts.” When questioned, the guests identified a woman they called “Peaches” as the host, and that she had received permission from the owner, from whom Peaches was leasing the house. The officers were able to get one of the partygoers to call Peaches, who was not present at the time, on the phone. On the phone, Peaches also alleged that she had permission from the owner to host the party at the residence. However, when the owner was contacted he claimed that the lease had not been executed and no permission for the party was given. As a result, partygoers were arrested.

Following the incident, sixteen of the partygoers who were arrested sued the officers and the District of Columbia claiming false arrest. In the case, the district court ruled in the partygoers’ favor. The case was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit which affirmed the previous ruling and stated that the officers did not have probable cause for entry nor were not entitled to immunity from liability. In D.C., the law states that probable cause to arrest for unlawful entry exists where a reasonable officer concludes from information known at the time that the arrestee knew or should have known that they entered the house against the will of the owner. In the courts opinion, the partygoers did not enter the residence unlawfully because they believed to be inside the home legally based on the information given to them by Peaches. Furthermore, the court ruled that the officers had no claim to immunity due to it being unreasonable for them to believe that they were not violating the partygoers’ Fourth Amendment rights against false arrest.

Discussion and Analysis

We often think of the Supreme Court as deciding lofty issues of law. But today they were mostly mired in the facts, trying to figure out whether the officers had probable cause to arrest the partygoers, many of whom claimed that they had been invited to the party by someone named “Peaches” or “Tasty.” Arguing on behalf of the District of Columbia and the police officers, D.C. Solicitor General Todd Kim urged the justices to remember that the standard for probable cause “accounts for the practical limitations that officers face when” arresting someone, including “an inability to look into the minds of suspects offering innocent explanations for suspicious conduct.” From the officers’ common-sense perspective, he stressed, there was a “fair probability” that the partygoers were trespassing when all of the facts of the situation were viewed together: The homeowner told police that no one was supposed to be there; it looked as though no one was living there, the partygoers said that they didn’t know where “Peaches” was, and they fled when the police arrived.

But the court’s four more liberal justices saw things differently. Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked Kim why the partygoers didn’t have a right to be there. I don’t ask to look at a lease when I am invited to someone’s house, or otherwise make sure that my host has a right to be there, she told him. Justice Stephen Breyer echoed Sotomayor’s thoughts, noting that – at least for young people today – it’s common for someone to tell others that there is a “party at Joe’s. And before you know it, 50 people go to Joe’s house” – none of whom asks whether it is actually Joe’s house or whether they are allowed to be there. Why is this different, Breyer queried? He later added that, in his view, there’s no reason for police to believe that the partygoer would know that it isn’t Joe’s house.

Arguing for the United States in support of the city and the police officers, Assistant to the Solicitor General Robert Parker also told the justices that police officers should be able to draw inferences from the “entire constellation of facts,” without having to “peer into the head of” a suspect. He emphasized that the United States was not arguing that someone can be arrested merely because he accepted a secondhand invitation to a party without first checking to make sure that the host’s name was on the lease. But in a scenario like this one, in which the partygoers found themselves in a “compromising situation,” he suggested, the “deck is stacked” against them.

Breyer was again unconvinced. Are you saying, he asked Parker, that every time the police go to a party in a sparsely furnished house and the partygoers claim that they were invited, the police can arrest them? Parker insisted that the government was not asking for a bright-line rule, but then Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg chimed in. “Peaches,” Ginsburg said, had said that she had just leased the house, in which case it would make sense that she didn’t have much furniture. Parker seemed to agree, but added that there was more to consider here: The house was in a state of “disarray.” Sotomayor (who apparently also has attended more interesting parties than I have) retorted that “disarray” is “what happens during a party.” Parker pushed back, telling the justices that the house wasn’t just in “disarray” but “very dirty,” with trash and “used contraceptives” “strewn about.” (Fortunately, one of the children was asleep by then.)

That’s when Kagan joined the fray, telling Parker that he was meeting resistance because the scene might have looked very different from the partygoers’ perspective. After recalling her own party-going days, Kagan suggested that the partygoers in a case like this one might not have known all the details. Instead, she posited, “they just know that Joe is having a party” – perhaps with some liquor or “recreational drugs” – “and they’re having a good time.”

Representing the partygoers, attorney Nathaniel Garrett tried to capitalize on the earlier line of questioning, telling the justices that even if there was a “raucous party” going on at the house, that didn’t mean that the partygoers should have known that they weren’t supposed to be there. But he didn’t get far before Chief Justice John Roberts interrupted him, reminding him that there was more going on than just a wild party.



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