Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Should Police Wait after Knocking? ; High Court Hears Search-and-Seizure Case Wednesday That Will Impact the War on Terrorism

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Should Police Wait after Knocking? ; High Court Hears Search-and-Seizure Case Wednesday That Will Impact the War on Terrorism

Article excerpt

Just before 2 p.m. on July 15, 1998, Lashawn Banks stepped into the shower in the bathroom of his two-bedroom apartment in Las Vegas.

As he soaped up, heavily armed men in bulletproof vests and black ski masks circled his building, taking up positions at both the front and back doors.

Amid the din of running water in his shower, Mr. Banks did not hear the knock at his front door. Nor did he hear the announcement that immediately followed the knock: "Police, search warrant."

What Banks did hear - 15 to 20 seconds later - was the crash of his front door being bashed in by members of a drug task force who had come to take down a suspected crack cocaine dealer.

The task force encountered Banks, wet, soapy, and naked, a few steps outside his bathroom.

Wednesday, in a case with implications for how the war on terror is waged, the US Supreme Court will examine whether the police tactics used in the Banks case amount to an unreasonable search and seizure in violation of Banks's Fourth Amendment privacy rights.

More specifically, they will consider what constitutes a reasonable amount of time between the initial knock and police announcement and the breaking down of a door by law-enforcement officers armed with a search warrant.

In addition, the court may also examine what the appropriate sanction should be in instances when police are too quick with a battering ram. Should all recovered evidence and statements be excluded from use at trial?

The search of Banks's apartment turned up three pistols, a bullet- proof vest, a scale, $6,000 in cash, and 11 ounces of crack cocaine. Banks, known on the street as "Shakes," pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and illegal possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to serve 11 years in prison.

But he reserved his right to appeal a key issue - whether the police had violated Fourth Amendment protections by failing to wait a "reasonable" amount of time before breaking down his door.

The reasonable delay is to give anyone inside the structure time to answer the door and either admit or refuse to admit the police. When in possession of a valid search warrant, police are authorized, if denied access, to break the door down to gain entry.

If no one answers, police may infer that the occupant is simply refusing to answer. But the critical question is how long must police wait after coming to that conclusion?

A federal appeals court agreed with Banks that the police acted too hastily in breaking down his door. The court ordered that everything seized by law-enforcement officials in the apartment could not be used as evidence against Banks.

It is now up to the justices to decide whether the appeals court got it right. Because the standard is one of "reasonableness" there are no obvious rules for when a particular police tactic used in a "knock and announce" case violates Fourth Amendment protections. …

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