Can You Be Arrested On Thanksgiving Due To A Family Gathering?

Washington Criminal Defense Attorney Jennifer Witt

There is no clear answer on this. First, it depends on enforcement. Second, it depends on the type of enforcement. Will it be a warning, a fine, or an arrest? Third, if you opened the door, did you lie to the officer or obstruct in some way? Your arrest might have to do with making a false statement, resisting, or obstructing. Finally, are you really going to open the door???

This morning we read that the Oregon Governor is announcing arrests for those gatherings over six people. The issue is that some folks, including governors, seem to forget that they may give executive orders but that doesn’t mean there are officers prepared to enforce it. If a governor announces that it is illegal to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on Wednesdays, I will venture to guess there will be zero arrests on Wednesdays for that violation. Why? Well, officers are usually busy at the holidays with DUI arrests, shoplifting, and assaults. PB & J eaters are not making it to the most wanted list.

What about Washington?


In Washington, it remains to be seen whether law enforcement would respond to a neighbor calling 911 about a gathering. To be sure, we have all had that neighbor who will call whether you have 6, 7, or 8 people—even if everyone lives under one roof. They will call. But, will dispatch send an officer? Honestly, we are curious ourselves.

Thanksgiving might be canceled but not the Fourth Amendment


If you have a Karen who has and will be calling regardless of your gathering size (and we are not encouraging or promoting large gatherings), be aware that you still have the 4th Amendment even in a pandemic. Government cannot demand you open your door because the neighbor says you have five cars in the driveway and yesterday you had four cars. If your instinct is to open the door, does the officer have clear view of a large gathering or some other evidence of a crime? Will you be answering the officer’s questions? If so, it is your answers, rather than the gathering, that might get you into trouble.

Your guests might want a Covid test but also check them for warrants


In the interest of you getting back to turkey and pie, we will keep this short and sweet (leaving out the pages of case law and constitutional analysis that could go into this blog) and let you know that, if an officer responds to your neighbor’s complaint, in nearly all circumstances, you do not need to open your door.

However, if you cause a scene or flip the officer off from the window, you’re probably opening the door on trouble. Officers have a way of finding a way to arrest someone if they are hellbent to do so. For example, does a registered owner of one of the cars in your driveway have a warrant? Depending on your buddy’s situation and reason for an arrest warrant, the officer might get a warrant to enter. Best not to test that theory.

So, in a very brief summary, unless there is evidence of a crime occurring, the officer can’t knock down your door. Cars in your driveway might suggest a large gathering but it also might suggest you have a chop shop. That last one isn’t good either but, in any case, if the officer wants to enter, she will need a warrant. This will bring into question the veracity of the statements made by the complainants (Now, I’m talking to you Karen. You better not be lying when call 911! Making a false statement is a crime.) If you are in Washington State and your third serving of stuffing is interrupted by a knock at the door, give our office a call. We expect the phone to be pretty quiet. Unless you have firearms going off and drunk wrestling in the front yard, we really doubt you will see law enforcement today. We sure hope not!

Happy Thanksgiving! Don’t go spreading anything but holiday cheer!

Ryan and Jen Witt of Witt Law Group, Kitsap County defense and personal injury lawyers

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