December 08, 2020

Dallas Criminal Defense Lawyer John Helms Explains-How Knock-and-Announce Search Warrants Should Be Served and Enforced

Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer States Knock and Announce Search Warrants Should Be Executed To Protect Both the the Police and It's Residents-But There Are Exceptions to the Rule

Do Police Have to Knock and Announce Themselves Before Entering a Home?

In most situations, even if the police have a search warrant, they should knock and announce their presence and wait a reasonable amount of time before entering a home.  This is called the knock-and-announce rule. It is supposed to give the resident enough time to respond to the police presence. Serving warrants in this manner may in the future help avoid tragic events like; the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor and the wounding of a police officer in Louisville Kentucky last March.

In other words, the police aren’t generally supposed to barge into a house.  However, there are exceptions to the general knock-and-announce rule.  For the accused, however, perhaps the most important issue is what happens if there is a violation of the rule.  I will discuss each of these issues.

Exceptions To The Knock-and-Announce Principle

The Supreme Court recognized the knock-and-announce rule in the 1995 case of Wilson v. Arkansas, 514 U.S. 927 (1995).  In Wilson, the Supreme Court held that whether the police knocked and announced was part of the “reasonableness inquiry” required by the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures.”   The Supreme Court further held that, normally, it is unreasonable for the police, even with a search warrant, to enter a home without knocking and announcing.  However, the Court noted that there could be other justifications for the police to enter without knocking and announcing, including a reasonable fear that the police would be in danger and a reasonable fear that the occupants would destroy evidence.  

After Wilson, courts have added other potential justifications, including:

   -      The police are in hot pursuit of a subject.

-      The police believe someone inside the residence is in danger

-      The police believe any delay in executing the warrant could allow the subject of the warrant to flee

See Richards v. Wisconsin, 520 U.S. 385 (1997).

There can be a great deal of gray area when it comes to police violating the knock-and-announce rule. For example, what constitutes a reasonable belief that someone inside might be destroying evidence? How can an officer prove this belief was reasonable at the time?

What Is The Remedy For A Violation Of The Knock And Announce Rule?

If the police do not knock and announce, and they do not have a reasonable basis for failing to do so, does this mean that the case must be dismissed or that the evidence the police find must be excluded from a criminal trial?  The answer to both questions is, “No.”  

In Hudson v. Michigan, 547 U.S. 586 (2006), the Supreme Court considered whether a police officer’s violation of the knock and announce rule is grounds for throwing out evidence found after the violation.  In a 5-4 decision, the Court held that it was not.  

According to Justice Scalia, this is because the exclusion of evidence on Fourth Amendment grounds is justified to vindicate the rights of citizens to protect their persons, houses, papers, and effects from the government’s scrutiny.  He further wrote that the purpose of the knock and announce rule is not to prevent the government from scrutinizing persons, houses, papers, and effects.  Instead, the purpose is to regulate the manner in which the police make entry to protect the police, reduce the chance of damage to property from the entry, and to protect the general “privacy and dignity of a home.”  Therefore, he concluded that exclusion of evidence was not an appropriate remedy.  He also said that the benefit of the knock and announce rule is outweighed by creating a potential “get-out-of-jail-free card.”

So, if evidence found in violation of the knock and announce rule can still be admitted against the accused, what remedy is there for a violation?  In Hudson, the Supreme Court suggested that civil lawsuits against the police or internal disciplinary proceedings against offending officers would be adequate to deter misconduct.  However, even if successful, civil lawsuits can only result in money damages caused by the violation, which may be minimal, and such cases would be very difficult to win because police officers generally have qualified immunity against such claims.  Therefore, as a practical matter, there may be little someone can do if they are charged with a crime based on evidence the police find after violating the knock and announce rule.  

Do Police Need a Search Warrant?

Generally, the police need a search warrant before they can enter a person’s home. However, there are cases in which the police have an urgent need to search and don’t have time to go to court to get a warrant. In these cases, they can conduct a search without getting a warrant.

For example, if the police witness someone commit a crime and then that person flees on foot or in a vehicle, the police obviously can’t pause the action and run to the courthouse for a warrant. In that situation, they would be justified in pursuing the suspect and conducting a search without first getting a warrant. When there isn’t an exceptional circumstance, however, the police are required to obtain a search warrant from a judge. The search warrant should be as specific as possible, listing where and what the police want to search. The police aren’t permitted to search anything not listed on the warrant. For example, if the warrant states the police can only search an individual’s home, they shouldn’t also conduct a search of the person’s car sitting in the driveway. 

However, if the police walked past the car on their way out of the house and saw drugs sitting on the front seat in plain view, that gives them a valid reason to search the car. 

Discuss Your Case with a Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer John Helms 

Search and seizure law can be extremely complex, and no two cases are the same. If you have been charged with a crime after the police searched your home or property, you have important rights. When your freedom and future are on the line, it’s important to work with an experienced Texas criminal defense lawyer.  

Don’t leave your case to chance -  Call Dallas criminal defense lawyer John Helms

Talk to a Texas defense lawyer to explore your options and protect your rights.


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