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No-Knock Searches: Are They Legal?
The Fourth Amendment
The United States Constitution’s Fourth Amendment is set up to protect people from unreasonable searches and seizures. The amendment begins, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause…” Usually, officers are required to knock on the door of a private residence and announce their presence before entering. The owner of the home is supposed to have time, or at least the opportunity, to answer the door. This rule was created in order to limit how much unnecessary destruction occurs from forced entry. Realistically, though, this legal right isn’t so cut and dry.
Even When They’re Not Legal, They’re Still Kind of Legal
When Congress passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse, Prevention, and Control Act in 1970, no-knock warrants were authorized. However, once Congress saw how dangerous this method could be, the law was repealed just four years later. However, there’s still an exception today. The Supreme Court says that knocking isn’t always necessary, depending on the situation. Sometimes, a legal no-knock search can be performed if there’s a warrant that authorizes entry without an announcement.
Even if the warrant doesn’t authorize this type of entry, it may still be legal - the court then has to decide if the no-knock search was reasonable. For example, if an officer has a regular warrant, but then changing circumstances require the police to barge into a home, they don’t need a no-knock warrant. At that point, though, they should have announced their presence, at least under normal circumstances.
Illegal No-Knock Searches & the Evidence Found There
In 2006, the Supreme Court ruled that evidence gathered during illegal no-knock searches no longer has to be forfeited. Previously, any evidence that was improperly obtained during police investigations was kept out of court. This was part of the Exclusionary Rule, which protects several rights, including that people can stay silent while in police custody. The fact that this evidence can now be used in court is responsible, some people feel, for more regular and aggressive illegal no-knock searched.
The Ogden Incident
An annoying disturbance of private property and the shock of having police officers suddenly in your home are just the beginning of the problems associated with no-knock searches, illegal or not. In September of 2010, local police went into a home in Ogden, Utah, at night when the house was dark. A man appeared in the hallway carrying a shiny object. The police officer who came upon the man thought that he was holding a sword. The officer shot the resident three times, killing him. Todd Blair, the man who was shot, was only carrying a golf club.
An Element of Surprise
Many times, judges will allow a no-knock warrant if they feel that the element of surprise will help the police officers to protect themselves and prevent any evidence from being destroyed. However, it’s exactly that element of surprise that makes these types of searches dangerous. Mainly, the people whose residences are being invaded may feel more threatened than they actually are. Residents, including those who are innocent, may not know right away if their house is being broken into by police officers or if they’re a victim of a real and dangerous home invasion.
Image by: Wikimedia Commons
Hanna Reese is a professional blogger that provides advice for criminal defense and DUI situations. She writes for WinningWithBinning.com which is a top DUI and criminal law firm in Columbus OH.