The recent fatal shooting of a Weimaraner dog in a Salt Lake City resident’s backyard made waves in the news and on social media across the U.S. The heartbreak over the seemingly senseless killing of a beloved pet strikes a chord with many Americans, as does the unauthorized entrance of law enforcement into one’s yard without consent. One citizen is hoping to change that through a sign he has designed that warns law enforcement and others of a pet on the premise. He’s looking for some protection of his Fourth Amendment rights, but lawyers in Salt Lake City caution the signs may be more feel-good, and less effective, at least according to this article in the Deseret News.
The signs (which are available for purchase) read: “No trespassing. Dog on premises. Notice to law enforcement: Resident does not consent to searches. In case of emergency, please recruit assistance from local animal control personnel.” They also leave room to write-in the purchaser’s phone number. Commentary from news media and the horrified response of the general public around the recent shooting of the aforementioned dog signaled to Chuck Roberts “how strongly people feel about their pets, property rights, and the safety of the state’s police officers.” Roberts hopes his signs will provide some measure of protection to home and pet owners in the valley who have been deeply disturbed by the shooting of the Weimaraner.
But lawyers in Salt Lake City caution that the signs may give more of the feeling of protection than providing actual legal recourse should Salt Lake City Police officers need to gain immediate access to a property in an emergency. For those of you who are about to Google “Fourth Amendment,” the long and short of it is the protection against unreasonable search and seizure and requiring warrants supported by probable cause. But lawyers in Salt Lake City like Clay A. Alger know that police officers are already trained on such issues. They should be well aware that they are prohibited from private property without a good reason.
The “good reason” is the catch, and in last month’s incident, it was the search for a missing 3-year-old that prompted a Salt Lake police officer to enter a backyard who was then confronted by the dog who saw the officer as an intruder and may have acted aggressively. This situation of the missing 3-year-old “fits the criteria for what legal scholars call ‘an exigent circumstance’—imminent danger or threat that would override property rights.”
Lawyers in Salt Lake City like Alger concede that the matter is under investigation, which implies that it’s still to be determined, officially, whether this particular case was one in which property rights could have been overridden, but it’s likely the law will fall on the side of the police officers. In which case, a sign would have meant nothing. Still, it’s enough of a comfort to pet and homeowners that the signs made by Roberts are selling like hotcakes. For $6.99 each, area residents can buy one online, after a five-to-10 day wait due to overwhelming demand. Despite what the law says, Robert insists that he’s “gotten a pretty good response” from the sign production, and if nothing else, will raise awareness in the area about property rights and how communities respond to emergencies.