In a major victory for the
government, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that police armed with a search
warrant may enter homes and seize evidence even if they don't knock.
In previous rulings citing centuries-old common law tradition, the Court
had held that except in cases of "no-knock" warrants, police must generally
knock and announce their presence or risk violating the Fourth Amendment's
ban on unreasonable searches.
The decision came on a 5-4
vote. The deciding vote came from Bush appointee Justice Samuel Alito.
Most analysts believe Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, whom he replaced, would
have voted the other way. When she heard arguments in the case before
her retirement, she worried aloud that a favorable ruling for police could
lead to police bursting unannounced into people's 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.
||danger knocks with new court ruling
The case, Hudson
v. Michigan, came from Detroit, where police with a search warrant
acknowledged violating the "knock and announce" rule by calling out their
presence at the door and then entering within five seconds -- before residents
had a chance to respond. Police found drugs and a weapon, and petitioner
Booker Hudson was convicted at trial. He appealed, arguing that because
of the Fourth Amendment violation, the evidence against him should be suppressed
under the exclusionary rule. The federal appeals court agreed with
Hudson, but that decision has now been overturned.
Writing for the majority,
Justice Antonin Scalia said Detroit police admitted violating the rule,
but they shouldn't be punished for what he called "a misstep." "Whether
that preliminary misstep had occurred or not, the police would have executed
the warrant they had obtained, and would have discovered the gun and drugs
inside the house," Scalia wrote.
Suppressing the evidence
would give Hudson a "get out of jail free card," Scalia wrote. Better
that the police get a "violate the Constitution without penalty card,"
In their dissent, four justices
led by Justice Stephen Breyer warned that the decision spits in the face
of more than 90 years of Supreme Court precedent and centuries of common
law tradition. By allowing police to violate the "knock and announce"
rule without excluding the subsequent evidence, "the Court destroys the
strongest legal incentive to comply with the Constitution's knock-and-announce
requirement. And the Court does so without significant support in
precedent. At least I can find no such support in the many Fourth
Amendment cases the Court has decided in the near century since it first
set forth the exclusionary principle in Weeks v. United States," wrote
Breyer. "Today's opinion is thus doubly troubling. It represents
a significant departure from the Court's precedents. And it weakens,
perhaps destroys, much of the practical value of the Constitution's knock-and-announce
-- END --
Mail this article to a friend
Send us feedback on this article
This issue -- main page
This issue -- single-file printer version
Drug War Chronicle -- main page
PERMISSION to reprint or
redistribute any or all of the contents of Drug War Chronicle (formerly The Week Online with DRCNet is hereby
granted. We ask that any use of these materials include proper credit and,
where appropriate, a link to one or more of our web sites. If your
publication customarily pays for publication, DRCNet requests checks
payable to the organization. If your publication does not pay for
materials, you are free to use the materials gratis. In all cases, we
request notification for our records, including physical copies where
material has appeared in print. Contact: StoptheDrugWar.org: the Drug Reform Coordination Network,
P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036, (202) 293-8340 (voice), (202)
293-8344 (fax), e-mail [email protected]. Thank
Articles of a purely
educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of the DRCNet
Foundation, unless otherwise noted.