No Castles in Harris County

There is probably no place in the country where the Castle Doctrine, the rule of law that allows a homeowner to take the life of a person who breaks into his home, with numerous local variations on the theme, more seriously than Texas.  Indeed, Texans seem to be of the belief that it applies to any variation on the theme, from someone else’s home to burglars outside the house, running away so they’re shot in the back. 

The motto of the Republic of Texas is “they needed killin’,” which makes what happened to  Jennifer Limon in Harris County all the more inexplicable.

You can hear the deputies asking the women to identify themselves, but the women refuse to comply and demand a search warrant. Then, the video shows the deputies arresting Limon.

She was charged for failing to identify herself to a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest.

Limon was in her own home. The deputies knocked on the door and she answered it. Some might question the wisdom of opening the door to police, but that’s not dispositive. By opening the door, she didn’t “open the door” to being questioned.  The threshold is a magic line in the law, a line that the police cannot cross except in very exceptional circumstances, unless they have a warrant. These deputies had no warrant.

The deputies were there to investigate, which is a perfectly fine thing for deputies to do.

Authorities said deputies came to the apartment as part of a follow-up investigation into the robberies, and added that the suspect’s stolen vehicle had been witnessed parked near Limon’s home earlier in the week.

Nothing there that offers any direct connection between the Limon’s home and the subject of the investigation, but that’s not the issue either. The issue arose when Limon refused to identify herself upon demand (or request, if one prefers police jargon and isn’t a slave to definitions). 

A spokesperson from the constable’s office said deputies didn’t need a search warrant because the women failed to give their names.

“That’s a violation of the law,” said Sgt. J.C. Mosier. “You have to identify yourself to a police officer. At that point, the officers entered.”

While this explanation may strike some as being superficially reasonable, Sgt. Mosier’s statement is sheer, utter legal insanity, enough so that it could go in the Hall of Fame For Stupid Shit Cops Say. No, you do not have to identify yourself to a police officer absent reasonable suspicion that you had, are or are going to commit a crime. Other than that, you have the right to decline and be left alone. Even in Houston.

And she had the forethought to have her cellphone video camera running, which sadly won’t embed and isn’t available on Youtube.  While recording the incident usually serves to give rise to excuses and denials, the Harris County Precinct 1 Constable’s Office doesn’t seem the least bit troubled by this conduct having been videoed, and apparently maintain that this was perfectly lawful conduct.

While watching this video, and in light of past commentary from Texans, the thought that went through my head was what would have happened had this not been Jennifer Limon, who obviously wasn’t particularly militant about the Castle Doctrine, but instead been a fellow with a gun inside his home.  The potential for an explosive situation was huge, and it’s impossible to say how many dead bodies would have littered the threshold of that home.

The police perspective is somewhat self-evident: they get to do whatever they feel entitled to do, and the citizen should comply now and complain later, provided he’s still alive to do so.  So what if they make a mistake of law, such as entering a home because the homeowner, for whom no suspicion exists, refuses to identify themselves upon command?  Want to live? Comply. 

To the police, it’s simple math. Do as they tell you and survive. 

This solution does little to protect the sanctity of the home, the constitutional rights of its occupants or the sense of unfettered entitlement to command the citizens for whom their position purportedly exists to bend to their will.  Compliance may be the safest route, though not necessarily, but it leads directly to the road to perdition. 

Chances are the deputies involved will be told by their supervisors to try their best not to embarrass the office again, and then given a medal for their bravery.  Limon will complain, which will then be investigated for the rest of her natural life until a determination is made that nothing happened here.  Maybe she’ll file suit and have it dismissed pre-answer on immunity grounds, or maybe it will settle for enough money to buy Slurpees for the whole family.

Not until the cops try this nonsense again with a guy with a gun and an attitude, and a few dead bodies litter the threshold, will the wrongfulness be taken seriously.  And one of the dead bodies will almost certainly be the homeowner, who will be absolutely right to protect his Castle. And very dead.




17 thoughts on “No Castles in Harris County

  1. Joe Pullen

    I always wonder what would have happened if she didn’t answer the door. We don’t answer the door around here unless we’re expecting someone and know who they are via our door camera.

  2. SHG

    Whether or not you answer the door is a distraction. It has absolutely nothing to do with whether the police have the authority to demand the homeowner to identify herself or enter the home without a warrant upon her refusal to do so.

  3. Marilou

    Excellent points. It’s a shame fewer of us will read this than normal, because the page took forever to load. I made a sandwich while waiting.

    But back to the point. Even in Texas, homeowners have rights. If only they always knew them.

  4. Brett Middleton

    Knowing your rights and being willing to die for them are two different things. Many these days are willing to give up rights they know or suspect they have just to avoid inconvenience or an argument. They would certainly give them up to avoid death.

  5. NHoward

    I believe Texas Penal Code 38.02 does require identification upon request. Although the statute only requires identification if an individual is under arrest, Texas courts and the Fifth Circuit have interpreted this pretty broadly as I understand it from reading exactly one case, Presley v. City of Benbrook (4 F3d 405). Still, your point is a valid one and I enjoyed reading your post. Just thought I’d add what little I know about Texas law to the conversation. Thanks!

  6. SHG

    Here’s the not-too-nuanced distinction: having to give your identity after arrest is entirely different than having to give your identity upon demand. So Texas Penal Code 38.02 does not require identification upon request, but upon request after a lawful arrest. This is a world apart.

  7. Joe Pullen

    I didn’t actually know that. I was always under the impression you had to identify yourself or they could arrest you. I suspect they count on the average citizen not knowing these things.

  8. John Burgess

    Texas penal code 38.02(b)(3) requires providing ID if the police suspect that the individual may have been a witness. No arrest or detention is required.

    That his is a big enough hole to drive a fleet of trucks through is another matter. Here, it seems the police only have to claim that they thought she might have witnessed the crimes to require her to provide ID.

  9. SHG

    I believe the crime there is giving a false name (or address, etc.), not refusing to give a name.

  10. ExCop-LawStudent

    The Tex. Pen. Code 38.02 does not require you to ID if detained. It requires ID if arrested, and prohibits giving false information if arrested or detained.

    I wrote a blog post on both 38.02 and Limon’s case at my blog,

  11. SHG

    Because I like to encourage law students, I’m going to allow your comment to post even though you repeat what’s already been written and use your comment to promote your blog post. Neither is a good way to make friends in the blawgosphere.  In the future, please control yourself.

  12. ExCop-LawStudent

    Sorry, I did not mean to step on any toes. I guess I was a little excited at seeing a blog I admire and follow post on something that I had also posted on. My apologies if I was out of line.

    If I could respond to the comment on the Presley case, this interpreted the prior Fail to ID statute in Texas, which then stated that an individual had to produce ID when a peace officer requested it. The law was later amended (at least twice) to its current version.

    The current statute is considerably different from the old statute. In Baldwin v. State, 237 S.W.3d 808 (Tex. App.–Houston [14th Dist.] 2007), reversed on other grounds 278 S.W.3d 367 (Tex. Crim. App. 2009), the court held that refusing to ID could be considered, with other factors, in determining reasonable suspicion to detain, but that it was not in itself an offense. The case was reversed because the officer searched Baldwin for ID after detaining and handcuffing him and did not have probable cause to search for ID.

    This is a recurring problem in Texas, as many officers simply believe that they have the right to ID anyone they want to, and to arrest the person if they do not comply. There are a multitude of examples of this, and I’m glad to see coverage of it.

  13. SHG

    Now that was a much more impressive comment. After reading that, I’m of the opinion that you have much to offer and want to read more of your thoughts. Well done.

    You may also want to think about using your real name rather than a pseudonym. You can call yourself ExCop-Student, but on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.

  14. ExCop-LawStudent

    Thanks for the compliment.

    I have personal reasons for not using my real name. One of the blogs where I comment on a regular basis has a large contingent of internet loony-toons, some of the sovereign citizen variety, and I would just as soon keep my real identity away from them.

  15. SHG

    I understand the desire for anonymity in some places, but with a bit of forethought, you can handle it. As a law student, you may find that it’s worthwhile to have a blog and comment elsewhere in your real name. Law school doesn’t last forever. You may want to “restructure” your online presence so that lawyers can come to learn and appreciate who you are.

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