Search and Seizure: Bush Nominees Could Provide Swing Votes in Supreme Court Search Warrant Case 5/19/06

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In an unusual second oral argument before the US Supreme Court Thursday, justices sparred over a Michigan case where police with a search warrant rushed into a home and seized evidence without knocking. The case, Hudson v. Michigan, is a test of previous Supreme Court rulings that police must generally knock and announce themselves before entering a residence with a search warrant.

Previously, the court has ruled that police must give people at least 15 or 20 seconds to answer the door or they risk running afoul of the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable searches. In the case of Booker Hudson, police announced their presence, but entered less than five seconds later. Hudson was convicted on cocaine charges as a result of the search.

When the case was first argued in January, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was still on the bench and appeared ready to rule in favor of Hudson. But her replacement, Justice Samuel Alito, appears much more sympathetic to the government. While he grilled Hudson's lawyers, he had no questions for government lawyers.

With the court evenly split on the issue, Alito's vote could make the difference. Justices favoring a less expansive view of police rights under the Fourth Amendment warned that the stakes are high. If the court rules against Hudson, said Justice Stephen Breyer, "We'd let a computer virus loose in the Fourth Amendment. It strikes me as risky and unprecedented."

"The police should not barge in like an invading army," said Justice David Souter.

On the other hand, Bush appointees Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Alito joined Justice Antonin Scalia, who has never met a search he didn't like, sharply challenged Hudson's claim the evidence was tainted by an improper search. Although for decades, US judicial doctrine has been to suppress the "poisonous fruits" of illegal searches, Scalia suggested that the government has a good argument that "the punishment for it should not be to let the criminal go."

Back in January, Justice O'Connor worried that a ruling in favor of police in this case would result in cops across the country bursting into homes. "Is there no policy of protecting the home owner a little bit and the sanctity of the home from this immediate entry?" she asked.

Given the current complexion of the Supreme Court, the answer is probably no. A ruling is expected soon.

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Issue #436 -- 5/19/06

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Editorial: Border Fears | Feature: Dramatic Death Toll in Sao Paulo as Drug Gangs, Police Clash | Feature: New Jersey Medical Marijuana Bill to Get Hearing | Feature: Marijuana Reform Emerges in Ireland | DRCNet Book Review: "Between Two Pages: Children of Substance," by Susan Hubenthal and GriefNet Parents (2003, 1st Books, $22.95, pb.) | Offer and Appeal: Important New Legalization Video and Drug War Facts Book Available | Feedback: Do You Read Drug War Chronicle? | Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories | Search and Seizure: Bush Nominees Could Provide Swing Votes in Supreme Court Search Warrant Case | Europe: British Police Demand Bar Patrons Submit to Drug Tests | Southwest Asia: US Counter-Drug Contractor Killed as Afghan Fighting Intensifies | Australia: Lone South Australia Democrat MP Even Lonelier -- But Unbowed -- After Coming to Ecstasy's Defense | Australia: Health Minister Says Marijuana as Dangerous as Heroin -- Calls for National Toughening of Laws | Web Scan: Shipping Off Hawaiian Women Prisoners, Two Very Different District Attorneys, Drug Truth Network | Weekly: This Week in History | Job Opportunities: Syringe Exchange Program Coordinator and Specialist, Harm Reduction Coalition, Oakland, California | Job Opportunity: Program Manager, Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, Washington, DC | Job Opportunity: Program Coordinator, Sensible Colorado, Denver/Boulder | Weekly: The Reformer's Calendar

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