Officers were OK to arrest 21 in 'makeshift strip club' house party, Supreme Court says

Story highlights

  • Supreme Court sides with police who arrested 21 people at a house party
  • Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the opinion
  • "Many of the partygoers said they were there for a bachelor party, but no one could identify the bachelor"

Washington (CNN)The Supreme Court on Monday ruled in favor of police officers who arrived at a supposedly vacant house after midnight in 2008 in Washington, DC, and arrested 21 people who said they were there with the permission of an absentee hostess named "Peaches."

The police argued, after contacting Peaches, that the partygoers had no permission to enter the house. The partygoers later sued for false arrest under the 4th Amendment.
    Lower courts ruled in favor of the partygoers, holding that the officers lacked probable cause to arrest the partygoers for unlawful entry. They cited a District of Columbia law stating that probable cause to arrest for unlawful entry requires evidence that the alleged intruder "knew or should have known upon entry, that such entry was against the will of the owner."
    A unanimous Supreme Court, however, reversed the decision in an opinion penned by Justice Clarence Thomas.
    The case clarifies the standard for probable cause as it applies to a suspect's knowledge -- or mental state -- of a suspected crime.
    Thomas wrote that the officers, responding to a complaint by a neighbor, arrived on the scene and observed the inside of the house was in disarray and looked like a vacant property.
    "In the living room, the officers found a makeshift strip club," Thomas wrote. "Several women were wearing only bras and thongs with cash tucked into their garter belts."
    "Many of the partygoers said they were there for a bachelor party, but no one could identify the bachelor," Thomas added, and he recounted that when police called Peaches she ultimately hung up, and when they contacted the owner of the house he said he had been trying to negotiate a lease with Peaches but they had not reached an agreement.
    Thomas said "considering the totality of the circumstances, the officer made an entirely reasonable inference that the partygoers were knowingly taking advantage of a vacant house as a venue for their late night party."
    "Most homeowners do not live in near-barren houses. And most homeowners do not invite people over to use their living room as a strip club, to have sex in their bedroom, to smoke marijuana inside, and to leave their floors filthy."
    Thomas also ruled that the officer were entitled to qualified immunity.