Snake Nailed to Door Ruins Evening for Defendant

snake nailed to doorOhio Court of Appeals Judge Mark Painter writes some amusing opinions. He had a bit more leeway to let loose back when he was a municipal judge presented with some highly unusual fact patterns.

In State v. Kirchner, the defendant was charged with aggravated menacing and resisting arrest. It all started just because he wanted to hang out one night at home with some friends–with a five-foot dead snake nailed to his door. Read on and enjoy:

The evidence adduced presented, at the very least, a bizarre situation. Cincinnati Police Officers Randy Froehlich and Steve Means received a radio dispatch to an address … in the “Over-the-Rhine” section of Cincinnati. The reason for the dispatch was “man nailing snake to door.”

Upon the officers’ arrival … they did in fact discover a five-foot-long black snake which had been nailed through its head to the door of defendant’s apartment. Though the record is silent on the point, assumedly the snake was deceased.

Quite naturally, the officers knocked on defendant’s door, which defendant answered, and sought to question defendant concerning the snake. The officers asked if they could come in and talk with the defendant, to which he replied, “no.” The entire situation deteriorated from that point forward, resulting in the events in this court.

Quite obviously, the defendant had a right, under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, to refuse to allow the officers to enter absent a warrant or perhaps exigent circumstances, which did not exist in this case. Of course, a prudent man would have talked with the officers to resolve the situation, but the Constitution applies to both prudent and imprudent men.

Defendant testified that the snake was not his, he had not nailed it to the door, and since it was not his snake, he did not believe it to be his responsibility to remove it. Defendant believed that the caretaker of the apartment building would eventually remove the snake, which had been hanging for approximately eight hours. Defendant did not wish to converse with any police officer, because he and his friends were engaged in a social visit, involving the use of Wild Irish Rose wine.

 [A struggle ensued when the defendant stepped back and put his hands on his hips. A folding knife in a sheath was on his belt. The officers interpreted his movement as “going for” the knife. They drew their weapons, disarmed and arrested the defendant.]

The question remains as to what, if any, laws the defendant had violated. It might be noted that no charges were filed against anyone in connection with the mistreatment of the snake. Under Cincinnati Municipal Code Section 701-11, “[n]o person shall … cruelly beat, mutilate … any animal …..” An “animal” is defined … as follows: “‘[a]nimal’ shall, for the purposes of Sections 720-11 and 720-13, mean and include every living dumb creature.” The above definition would obviously include a snake, though the inartful wording might imply that it would be perfectly legitimate to torture a talking parrot. Be that as it may, since the defendant denied nailing the snake to the door, the officers were evidently not able to determine the identity of the nailor, the nailee obviously being unable to testify.

We do not find that defendant’s actions … constitute the crime of aggravated menacing. Perhaps the entire matter could be classified under “aggravated foolishness,” though there is no section in the Revised Code proscribing such conduct. If there were, our jails would be a great deal more crowded than they are presently.

 Judge Painter found sufficient evidence to support a conviction of the defendant for resisting arrest.

State v. Kirchner, 483 N.E.2d 497, 498–99 (Ohio Mun. 1984).

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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