Supreme Court Cases 2003-2004 Term

Article excerpt

The 2003-2004 U.S. Supreme Court term included several cases addressing a variety of constitutional criminal procedural issues, some dealing with the most fundamental of law enforcement activities. One case resolved the constitutionality of a state's identify yourself statute, requiring individuals to identify themselves during an investigation detention. The Court also rejected a rigid approach to determining whether a reasonable period of time has lapsed prior to making a forcible entry. A few vehicle cases were reviewed, including one addressing the scope of the search incident to arrest when the individual already was out of the vehicle when the law enforcement encounter began and the other relating to highway checkpoints. The Court addressed the constitutionality of arresting several companions when information suggests at least one may be involved in criminal activity. Custodial interrogation matters also went before the Court, including the constitutionality of an interrogation technique described as the ask now, warn later approach and the admissibility of physical evidence derived from a confession obtained in violation of Miranda. Additionally, the concept of deliberate elicitation within the meaning of the Sixth Amendment was clarified. The following is a brief synopsis of these cases. As always, state and local law enforcement agencies must ensure that their own state laws and constitutions have not provided greater protections than the U.S. constitutional standards.


United States v. Banks, 124 S. Ct. 521 (2003)

This case afforded the U.S. Supreme Court the opportunity to provide guidance to law enforcement officers in assessing how much time to wait prior to making a forcible entry after knocking and announcing their presence and demanding entry. Officers obtained a search warrant based on information that cocaine was being sold from an apartment. Officers at the front door of the apartment knocked and announced loud enough to be heard by officers located at the back. After waiting 15 to 20 seconds with no response, officers forcibly entered with a battering ram. They encountered the defendant walking out of the shower after he heard them enter. Evidence of drug dealing was found during the search, which the defendant sought to suppress, arguing that the officers failed to wait a reasonable time prior to the forcible entry.


The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the defendant and spelled out a detailed list of factors law enforcement must consider when deciding whether a reasonable period of time has lapsed prior to making a forcible entry. The factors included the location of the officers in relation to the main living or sleeping area of the residence, time of day, and the object of the search. (1) Additionally, the court of appeals divided the types of entries into categories, each supporting a different type of delay. For example, the court described the entry in this case as involving the destruction of property but with no exigent circumstances, therefore, requiring an even longer period of time before making entry. (2) The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear this case and ultimately rejected this approach.

The Court rejected the idea that the concept of reasonableness required law enforcement officers to consider a list of predetermined factors to justify their actions. Instead, reasonableness should be viewed under the totality of the circumstances confronting officers at the moment they decide to make forcible entry. The Court viewed the delay of 15 to 20 seconds in Banks as sufficient given that a reasonably objective law enforcement officer could conclude that the danger of disposal of the drugs had ripened.


Thornton v. United States, 124 S. Ct. 2127 (2004)

In 1981 in New York v. Belton, (3) the U.S. Supreme Court described the scope of the search incident to arrest of an occupant in a vehicle as anywhere within the passenger compartment, including containers the officer discovers. …