US NV: Editorial: When Police Won't Play 'Knock, Knock'
Pubdate: Tue, 10 Jan 2006Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal (NV)
Copyright: 2006 Las Vegas Review-Journal
Supreme Court Again Examines Fourth Amendment Issue
A little more than two years ago, in a case out of North Las Vegas, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruled it was OK for police to wait as little as 20 seconds between the time they knocked on a door to announce themselves and the time their battering ram took down the door. Lashawn Banks of North Las Vegas was taking a shower on July 15, 1998, when masked and heavily armed officers used a battering ram to break into his apartment to look for drugs. Officers found 11 ounces of crack cocaine and three firearms during their search.
In March 2002, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the drugs found in Banks' home should not have been used as evidence because police did not wait "a reasonable time" for Banks to respond to police demands for entrance. The 9th Circuit relied on high court rulings as recent as 1997 that held police must knock and announce themselves unless they have reason to believe a suspect presents a danger or might destroy evidence. But in 2003 -- continuing the erosion of the Fourth Amendment's protections under the rubric of the "War on Drugs" -- the high court opted to overrule the 9th Circuit in the Banks case, holding a 20-second delay was ample because more time might give drug suspects time to flush evidence down the toilet. Now, the court is being asked to allow police to wait no time at all.
Also back in 1998, Detroit police did not bother knocking on Booker Hudson's door when they arrived with a warrant to search for drugs. Police say they shouted that they had a warrant and broke in 3 to 5 seconds later. Police found crack cocaine In this new case addressing the same question, the Supreme Court debated Monday whether those drugs can be used as evidence against Hudson because officers were wrong in giving Hudson no time to come to the door. Retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who may or may not vote in the final decision, seemed ready to rule against police, pointing out that the Detroit officer testified he routinely went into houses without knocking. She predicted that policy would be adopted by "every police officer in America" if the court levied no penalty. It's commonly argued that only the guilty need more time to answer the door; the innocent have "nothing to fear." But the court already allows police to explain to a judge the "special circumstances" that require a ( presumably rare ) "no-knock" warrant.
The question here is whether police should, in effect, be allowed to turn the service of every warrant into a three-step process in which they break down the door unannounced, race into the house and hold all occupants at gunpoint, and then shout, "Police! Warrant!" The "normalization" of that procedure certainly could hurt the innocent. Upon opening the door and being given a chance to peruse a warrant, an innocent person might, at least in theory, have a chance to point out the address on the warrant does not match these premises. There are numerous jurisdictions in this country (simply Google "home invaders impersonating police") where outlaw home invaders have taken to yelling, "Police! Warrant!" in hopes of freezing their victims into inactivity long enough to disarm them. Rape and robbery can then proceed with less risk to the perpetrators. There are thus places in this country where it is not an irrational response for the head of the household to grab his firearm when armed strangers dressed in black break down his door unannounced in the middle of the night. Unnecessary deaths have been known to result.
These are the murky waters into which the high court will lower us, should the justices hold that breaking down doors without giving the occupants a chance to peacefully respond should now become "standard operating procedure." No, officers should not be required to stand around watching the minute hands of their watches if they hear the screams of hostages being executed behind a closed door. But in most cases, the time to plead special circumstances is when the search warrant is being requested.