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June 15, 2006 - Associated Press (US)

High Court Backs Police No-Knock Searches

By Gina Holland, Associated Press

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Washington - The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that police armed with a warrant can barge into homes and seize evidence even if they don't knock, a huge government victory that was decided by President Bush's new justices.

The 5-4 ruling signals the court's conservative shift following the departure of moderate Sandra Day O'Connor.

Dissenting justices predicted that police will now feel free to ignore previous court rulings that officers with search warrants must knock and announce themselves or run afoul of the Constitution's Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, said Detroit police acknowledge violating that rule when they called out their presence at a man's door, failed to knock, then went inside three seconds to five seconds later. The court has endorsed longer waits, of 15 seconds to 20 seconds.

"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 evidence is too high of a penalty, Scalia said, for errors by police in failing to properly announce themselves.

The outcome might have been different if O'Connor were still on the bench. She seemed ready, when the case was first argued in January, to rule in favor of Booker Hudson, whose house was searched in 1998.

O'Connor had worried aloud that officers around the country might start bursting into homes to execute search warrants. She asked: "Is there no policy of protecting the home owner a little bit and the sanctity of the home from this immediate entry?"

She retired before the case was decided, and a new argument was held so that Justice Samuel Alito could participate in deliberations. Alito and Bush's other Supreme Court pick, Chief Justice John Roberts, supported Scalia's opinion.

Hudson's lawyers argued that evidence against him was connected to the improper search and could not be used at his trial. He was convicted of drug possession.

Scalia said that a victory for Hudson would have given "a get-out-of-jail-free card" to him and others.

In a dissent, four justices complained that the decision erases more than 90 years of Supreme Court precedent.

"It weakens, perhaps destroys, much of the practical value of the Constitution's knock-and-announce protection," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for himself and the three other liberal members.

Breyer said that police can now enter homes without knocking and waiting a short time if they know that there is no punishment for it.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a moderate, joined the conservatives in most of the ruling.

He wrote his own opinion, however, to say "it bears repeating that it is a serious matter if law enforcement officers violate the sanctity of the home by ignoring the requisites of lawful entry."

Kennedy said that legislatures can intervene if police officers do not "act competently and lawfully." He also said that people whose homes are wrongly searched can file a civil rights lawsuit.

And Scalia wrote that there are public-interest law firms and attorneys who specialize in civil rights grievances.

In response, Breyer said there is no evidence of anyone collecting much money in such cases.

The case is Hudson v. Michigan, 04-1360.

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