Knock and Announce: A Fourth Amendment Standard

By Bulzomi, Michael J. | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, May 1997 | Go to article overview

Knock and Announce: A Fourth Amendment Standard


Bulzomi, Michael J., The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin


In Wilson v. Arkansas,(1) decided in 1995, a unanimous Supreme Court held for the first time that whether police "knock and announce" their presence before executing valid search warrants is part of the Fourth Amendment inquiry into the reasonableness of a search. This article discusses the Wilson decision and its practical impact on law enforcement entry to premises. The article offers advice on how law enforcement agencies should structure their "no-knock" and "dynamic entry" search and seizure policies and practices to ensure they meet constitutional standards of reasonableness. An unconstitutional entry may result in the suppression of evidence and possible civil liability.

BACKGROUND OF WILSON V. ARKANSAS

The defendant in Wilson made a series of drug sales to an Arkansas State Police informant and threatened the informant with a gun. The police later went to the defendant's apartment to execute a search warrant and found the front door open. Upon opening an unlocked screen door to enter the residence, the police identified themselves and stated that they had a warrant. Once inside the home, the officers seized various drugs, paraphernalia, a gun, and ammunition. They also found the defendant in the act of flushing marijuana down the toilet.

Prior to trial, the defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized during the search, arguing that the police had violated her Fourth Amendment rights by failing to knock and announce prior to entering her home. The trial court denied the suppression motion and the Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed her conviction by concluding that knock and announce is not a Fourth Amendment requirement.

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed and held that the knock and announce principle is a constitutionally based requirement in assessing whether entry to premises to conduct a search and seizure is reasonable. The Court did so by looking at the background and formulation of the knock and announce rule based in common law.

Common Law Origin of Knock and Announce

The common law knock and announce principle deals with the right to privacy, specifically in one's home. The knock and announce requirement, well-established in England by the 18th century, quickly became woven into the fabric of early American law. Despite many exceptions and a history of abuse, some form of notice or demand for admission generally preceded the service of general warrants and writs of assistance in early Colonial America.(2)

It is clear that the framers of the Fourth Amendment were familiar with the abusive search and seizure practices used by the British government and adopted the amendment as a response to such practices. Although unannounced searches are not explicitly prohibited in the Constitution, the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures implicity embraces the common law principle that law enforcement officers should announce their purpose and authority before forcibly entering an individual's home.(3)

Knock and Announce Legislation

Despite this common law background, 34 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government have enacted statutes requiring that law enforcement officers knock and announce their presence prior to making forced entry to premises.(4) A typical example of a statutory enactment is the federal knock and announce statute, which provides:

The officer may break open any outer or inner door or window of a house, or any part of a house, or anything therein, to execute a search warrant, if, after notice of his authority and purpose, he is refused admittance or when necessary to liberate himself or a person aiding him in the execution of the warrant.(5)

Some jurisdictions enacted legislation providing for so-called no-knock warrants. However, controversy precipitated by no-knock warrants resulted in Congress' repealing the federal no-knock statute in 1974. Only a few states currently have statutes authorizing no-knock warrants. …

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