Supreme Court: Police don't have to knock
Top court upholds no-knock police search
By GINA HOLLAND, Associated Press Writer 16 minutes
WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court made it easier Thursday
for police to barge into homes and seize evidence
without knocking or waiting, a sign of the court's new
conservatism with Samuel Alito on board.
The court, on a 5-4 vote, said judges cannot throw out
evidence collected by police who have search warrants
but do not properly announce their arrival.
It was a significant rollback of earlier rulings
protective of homeowners, even unsympathetic
homeowners like Booker Hudson, who had a loaded gun
next to him and cocaine rocks in his pocket when
Detroit police entered his unlocked home in 1998
The court's five-member conservative majority,
anchored by new Chief Justice John Roberts and Alito,
said that police blunders should not result in "a
get-out-of-jail-free card" for defendants.
Dissenting justices predicted that police will now
feel free to ignore previous court rulings requiring
officers with search warrants to knock and announce
themselves to avoid running afoul of the
Constitution's Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable
"The knock-and-announce rule is dead in the United
States," said David Moran, a Wayne State University
professor who represented Hudson. "There are going to
be a lot more doors knocked down. There are going to
be a lot more people terrified and humiliated."
Supporters said the ruling will help police do their
"People who are caught red-handed with evidence of
guilt have one less weapon to get off," said Kent
Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice
The case provides the clearest sign yet of the court
without Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Hudson had lost his case in a Michigan appeals court.
Justices agreed to hear his appeal last June, four
days before O'Connor's surprise announcement that she
O'Connor was still on the bench in January when his
case was first argued, and she seemed ready to vote
with Hudson. "Is there no policy of protecting the
home owner a little bit and the sanctity of the home
from this immediate entry?" she asked.
She retired before the case was decided, and a new
argument was held this spring so that Alito could
participate, apparently to break a 4-4 tie.
Four justices, including Alito and Roberts, would have
given prosecutors a more sweeping victory but did not
have the vote of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a
Ronald Allen, a Northwestern University Law professor,
said the ruling "suggests those four would be happy to
consider overturning" a 1961 Supreme Court opinion
that said evidence collected in violation of the
Fourth Amendment cannot be used in trials. "It would
be a significant change," he said.
Kennedy joined in most of the ruling but wrote to
explain that he did not support ending the knock
requirement. "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," he said.
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.
Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, said
that there are public-interest law firms and attorneys
who specialize in civil rights grievances.
Detroit police acknowledge violating the
knock-and-announce rule when they called out their
presence at Hudson'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. Hudson was convicted of drug possession.
"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.
Four justices complained in the dissent that the
decision erases more than 90 years of Supreme Court
"It weakens, perhaps destroys, much of the practical
value of the Constitution's knock-and-announce
protection," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for himself
and Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter and
Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Breyer said that while police departments can be sued,
there is no evidence of anyone collecting much money
in such cases.
The case is Hudson v. Michigan, 04-1360.
On the Net:
Supreme Court decisions: http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/05slipopinion.html