Seiracki v. State
On February 16, 2022, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal decided the Seiracki v. State, a case where the defendant was convicted of stalking and resisting an officer without violence. A friend of mine, Charley Demosthenous, was the attorney for Mr. Seiracki. He’s a good attorney if you don’t decide to hire me but I digress….
As was mentioned, Mr. Seiracki was convicted at trial of both stalking and resisting an officer without violence. The appellate court affirmed the stalking conviction without discussion but decided to reverse the resisting an officer without violence conviction. This leaves us with a good opinion on an issue that should have been obvious to the trial court: cops cannot remove a person from their home just because they are investigating a crime.
Facts of the Case
On August 25, 2020, a female pulled into her driveway and Seiracki was standing in his doorway naked. The female stayed in her car and called the police. Officer Joaquin Gonzalez responded to the scene and observed that Seiracki’s front door was still open. However, as Officer Gonzalez approached the residence to speak with Seiracki, the door quickly closed. Officer Gonzalez knocked, announced his presence, and asked Seiracki to open the door. Seiracki briefly poked his head out before shutting the door again.
Eventually, Seiracki opened the door and Officer Gonzalez instructed him to step outside because they were conducting an investigation. When he refused, Officer Gonzalez and another officer grabbed him by the wrist and brought him outside. Officer Gonzalez testified that as they tried to detain Seiracki, he “continued to tense up his arms and try to . . . retreat into his residence.” At the time, Officer Gonzalez acknowledged that they did not have enough for an arrest and stated that they were detaining Seiracki “for his safety and ours.” Seiracki was ultimately placed in handcuffs and arrested for resisting an officer without violence.
Resisting an Officer Without Violence
To establish the offense of resisting an officer without violence, “the State must prove two elements: (1) the officer was engaged in the lawful execution of a legal duty and (2) the defendant’s action constituted obstruction or resistance of that lawful duty.” C.W. v. State, 76 So. 3d 1093, 1095 (Fla. 3d DCA 2011) (citing J.P. v. State, 855 So. 2d 1262, 1265-66 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003)). This case involved an interpretation of the first element.
The Court concluded that the officers violated Seiracki’s Fourth Amendment rights by physically removing him from his residence. In Nieves v. State, 277 So. 3d 745, 748 (Fla. 2d DCA 2019), this court explained that “it is unlawful for the police to make a warrantless entry into a place protected by the Fourth Amendment for the purpose of arresting a suspect unless an exception to the warrant requirement applies.” In this case, the officers involved made no efforts to secure a warrant and the evidence did not support the existence of any exception to the warrant requirement.
While Seiracki’s reluctance to exit the residence to speak with police may have inconvenienced Officer Gonzalez, his conduct was entirely consistent with his rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. See, e.g., J.H.M. v. State, 945 So. 2d 642, 644 (Fla. 2d DCA 2006) (determining that once an individual told deputies who did not have a warrant she did not want to speak to the officers or allow them into the apartment, “at that point the deputies had no legal right to further pursue the interview and were required to permit J.H.M. to close the door”); Robinson v. State, 550 So. 2d 1186, 1187 (Fla. 5th DCA 1989) (“The defendant’s failure to cooperate—his refusal to answer questions—cannot itself be criminal consistent with fourth and fifth amendment protections.” (citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968))).
What Should You Do?
The ability to refuse to speak to law enforcement has been settled law for decades if not centuries in this country. I’m baffled that the trial court got this wrong and that an appeal to the Second DCA was needed to correct this error. However, this case does give us additional clarity in the law, which is always a good thing.
So, if law enforcement is at your door and requesting to speak, you have an absolute right to keep your door closed and to refuse to speak with them. Unless they have a warrant to enter the home or some other exception to the warrant requirement is proven, this is your right.
With that said, if you have law enforcement at your door wanting to speak with you, it might be a good idea to give me a call. I am a board-certified criminal trial law attorney practicing since 2006. My number is 813.416.7965. I can help.