When serving a warrant, police are supposed to knock and announce their presence and purpose to the occupants of a residence.  This is called the “knock-and-announce” rule; it is based on the “reasonableness” requirement of the Fourth Amendment and codified in Texas and other states’ laws.

Current U.S. Supreme Court case law (Richards v. Wisconsin) holds that before police may serve a warrant using a no-knock, surprise entry of a residence, they must either have a no-knock warrant approved by a magistrate or be able to articulate “exigent circumstances” at the scene that lead them to believe the safety of persons would be endangered by their knocking and announcing.  Knock and announce has always been a fundamental rule in 4th Amendment jurisprudence and its exceptions rigidly restricted.  In Texas, that law is now under attack.

In Quinn v. State of Texas, after failing to persuade the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to hear the appeal, Mr. Quinn has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a criminal conviction stemming from a violation by the police of the knock-and-announce rule.  In that case, police admitted in court that the only “exigent circumstance” they relied upon for use of a no-knock entry to serve a search warrant for Mr. Quinn’s son (who was suspected of possession of steroids) was their suspicion that the occupants might be in possession of a rifle.  The police further testified that when they arrived on the scene to execute the warrant – at 12:06 a.m. –  they observed none of the traditional circumstances for using a no-knock entry, such as indications that weapons were being prepared for use, people running to escape, or toilets flushing (flight and imminent destruction of evidence are also limited exceptions to the knock-and-announce rule).  Instead, police admitted they were planning the no-knock entry six hours before the raid and did not bother to ask the magistrate for a no-knock warrant even though when they sought the warrant they knew they were going to use a no-knock entry to execute it (which borders on judicial deception by silence).

There are at least three troubling issues in this case.  First, if police “suspicion of firearms” is enough to justify a no-knock entry, then suspicion of any harmful substance or instrument on the premises should also justify a no-knock entry.  Kitchen knives, baseball bats, even rope, are all potentially dangerous instruments and logically, should support a no-knock entry under the theory proposed.  If allowed to stand, this would mean the “safety” exception to the knock-and-announce rule would always and completely swallow the rule.

Second, no-knock entries have traditionally been allowed only in extreme situations, such as where lives would be endangered if the police knock and announce their presence.  But a no-knock entry – especially where police suspect the occupants may be armed and dangerous in a state where the Castle Doctrine applies – is unquestionably the most hazardous way to serve a warrant; dangerous for the police, for the occupants, and for any bystanders.  Police claims of “better safety” from no-knock entries in those circumstances are patently disingenuous.

Third, a no-knock entry is a violent assault on the life and property of the occupants.  They usually occur using battering rams and military-style stun grenades, often deployed indiscriminately. If allowed for lesser reasons than to protect innocent life, for instance in a hostage situation, a no-knock entry does away with the presumption of innocence and subjects the occupants to government-inflicted penalties and harm before they have been convicted of any crimes.

Finally, last year, of the 80,000+ no-knock entries by police across the United States, nearly 2,000 of them were executed at the wrong address, subjecting these innocent occupants to the same terror and harm always inflicted by such actions.  Family dogs are almost always shot by police during these raids as well.

It is time for the Supreme Court to tell us, once and for all, whether the 4th Amendment still protects us from intrusive, violent, and unnecessary tactics by the police, or whether we have indeed become a police state in that respect.  The case is currently pending on petition for certiorari, case no. 13-765.

Photo Credit: http://www.americanspecialops.com/photos/est/tactical-response-force-nuclear-swat.php.