John Livingston: Killed For Knowing His Rights
Nov. 20, 2015 (Mimesis Law ) — A man’s home is his castle. Intruders force entry at their own risk. So if you break into a house, you take your life into your own hands. That’s not some nostalgic rule from the Dark Ages. Most states have caught up with the idea in the form of Castle Doctrine laws.
In North Carolina, we will soon see just how important this law is to John Livingston. Unfortunately, Livingston is dead so it will be a Pyrrhic victory. But based on both the United States Constitution and North Carolina state law, it should be a victory. Livingston died in a perfectly legal struggle with his killer.
Even more unfortunately, Livingston’s killer was a cop. So now we have a problem. Livingston doesn’t, because he is dead. It will remain to be seen if the killer cop has a problem, because we don’t like to prosecute cops, even for killing innocent civilians.
But in this case, North Carolina law is on the side of the angels. Though its little comfort to Livingston, North Carolina statute § 14-51.2(c)(4) says a North Carolinian can use force against a law enforcement officer who is attempting to enter a home illegally.
The Harnett County Sheriff’s Office identified Deputy Nicholas Kehagias as the deputy who shot Livingston. Beyond his name, the Sheriff’s Office had little to say:
According to authorities, “a confrontation with an individual resulted in a shooting.” The person involved in the confrontation was pronounced dead at the scene, while the deputy received minor injuries.
The “confrontation” began when police showed up at Livingston’s house at 3:30 in the morning looking for someone who had previously lived there. When told that person did not live there, deputies asked if they could search the house. Livingston told them not without a warrant, which is a perfectly reasonable position to take in the United States of America. He then closed the door, which was a move not well received by the deputies.
According to Livingston’s roommate, the deputies kicked the door in, jumped on Livingston, and started spraying him with mace and using a Taser on him. Livingston resisted being Tasered. As the “confrontation” moved outside, Kehagias shot Livingston six times.
Witnesses said Livingston was not fighting back and was trying to get the Taser out of the deputy’s hands.
The incident eventually continued outside.
“He (Livingston) barely had the Taser in his hand but he had it where it was constantly going off and the officer I guess that spoke to him rolled over there, says he got the Taser and shot him in this position,” Carroll said while on the deck outside the home demonstrating what happened.
This shooting stands out from other police shootings because there doesn’t seem to be an argument Livingston was breaking the law or even resisting lawful actions. And the North Carolina Castle Doctrine statute supports his actions. Specifically, the statute allows the occupant of a home to fight back, even using deadly force, when a law enforcement officer is unlawfully entering his home.
The Sheriff’s Office has not claimed there was a lawful warrant to search the house, which would be the logical first move in defending Kehagias’s shooting. And nothing about the reported facts suggests the police would have been able to get a warrant to search Livingston’s house.
The Fourth Amendment is one of those old school rights that was intended to protect citizens from overzealous government searches. The founding fathers didn’t want police busting into houses because they felt like it. As exceptions to the Fourth Amendment pile up, it is dying a death by a thousand cuts.
Americans will spend fortunes and go to legal war over the thought that their speech could be limited in violation of the First Amendment or their guns could be taken in violation of the Second Amendment. But no one seems too concerned about the right to be free from unlawful search and seizure. North Carolina has an opportunity to prove its commitment to the Fourth Amendment. Hopefully they will take a different position than Virginia and not add another cut to the right.
The Fourth Amendment was intended to protect us from our own government. Castle Doctrine laws were intended to protect us from all the other nuts out there. The two should work together pretty well in protecting a home. Your home should be the one place you have some semblance of safety and security. Against everyone. Even the government.
Deputy Kehagias was pissed a door got slammed in his face. Whether it’s barking at a police dog or driving away from a traffic stop, the police can’t stand it when someone refuses to comply with their instructions.
But under the United States Constitution, Livingston had every right to slam the door in Kehagias’s face if he did not produce a search warrant for the property. And under North Carolina law, when Kehagias decided to bust through that slammed door, Livingston had every right to fight him off. Those rights are of little comfort to a man shot to death by that same deputy.
It’s too late to help John Livingston. He’s dead at the hands of a police officer who was breaking the law. But maybe we can gain something positive out of this tragic situation.
Kehagias should be held responsible for his actions. If a normal person broke into a house and ended up shooting the homeowner, there would be no question he would be arrested, charged with murder, and most likely prosecuted mercilessly. Without a warrant, Kehagias had no more right to break into Livingston’s house than a burglar.
Most people don’t care much about the Fourth Amendment. After all, if you are doing nothing wrong, why do you care about a police search? In theory, it’s a good right. In practice, most people probably think they don’t need it. John Livingston needed it, because he didn’t like the idea of police officers rummaging through his home in the dead of the night. Not an unreasonable position, but he was killed for asserting his rights.
The Fourth Amendment and Castle Law Doctrines intersect to truly make a man’s home his castle, even against the government. If North Carolina holds Deputy Kehagias responsible for his actions, that does no good for John Livingston or his family, but it could gain us something positive from a terrible situation. It could garner some respect for the law from the police.