Supreme Court Ruling: Knock-and-Announce
Devanney, Joe, Law & Order
Arguably the most important decision from the United States Supreme Court in decades on the law of search and seizure was handed down in June 2006. The court, hi a 5-4 decision, ruled hi Hudson v. Michigan that police officers with search warrants may enter homes without knocking and without the risk of having any seized evidence thrown out at trial.
Like many other cases that have become milestones in the evolving law of search and seizure, the facts in Hudson involve a relatively minor drug arrest. Around 3:30 a.m. on the afternoon of Aug. 27, 1998, Detroit officers executed a warrant at the residence of Booker T. Hudson Jr. The officers approached the home and shouted, "Police, search warrant," but they did not knock. Three to five seconds later, they opened the door and entered the house.
Even the three to five seconds was not really a pause by the police. Officer Jamal Good later testified that that was just the time it took for him to get inside the door. Good also testified that he and his fellow officers did not wait to see if anyone would answer the door.
Upon entering the house, Hudson was found seated in a chair in the living room. He was subsequently searched by Good, who discovered five rocks of crack cocaine in Hudson's pants pocket. In addition, a loaded gun was found in the chair in which Hudson had been sitting and additional cocaine was found elsewhere in the house.
At trial, Hudson moved to suppress all of the seized evidence on the claim that his Fourth Amendment rights had been violated. The trial court agreed with him, but the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the trial court. Hudson was retried, convicted and appealed again. The Michigan appellate courts upheld his conviction (on cocaine possession only), and he subsequently appealed to the United States Supreme Court.
The court agreed to hear the case possibly because Michigan had conceded there was a knock-and-announce violation. This concession sharpened the issue to the single and specific question of whether violation of the knockand-announce rule required the suppression of all found evidence.
In its divided decision, which was authored mainly by Justice Antonin Scalia, the court first observed that "Suppression of evidence has always been our last resort, not our first impulse." Scalia noted that some early decisions, such as Mapp v. Ohio (1961), had suggested a potentially wide use of the exclusionary rule, but that approach has been long rejected by the Supreme Court.
Scalia also stressed that the Detroit Police had a valid search warrant to investigate Hudson, which was a matter separate and apart from how the police entered Hudson's home. Scalia wrote, "Until a valid warrant has issued, citizens are entitled to shield their persons, houses, papers and effects...from the government's scrutiny. Exclusion of the evidence obtained by a warrantless search vindicates that entitlement. The interests protected by the knock-and-announce requirement are quite different, and do not include the shielding of potential evidence from the government's eyes." These interests include the protection of life and property since an unannounced entry may provoke violence.
On the other hand, Justice Scalia continued, the negative social costs of allowing the exclusionary rule to be used in knock-and-announce violations must also be considered. These costs would be "considerable." Not only would many criminals be allowed back onto the streets, but also the courts would be flooded with alleged claims that the knock-and-announce rule had been violated.
"The cost of entering this lottery," Scalia wrote, "would be small, but the jackpot enormous: suppression of all evidence, amounting in many cases to a get-out-of-jail-free card. Courts would experience as never before the reality that the exclusionary rule frequently requires extensive litigation to determine whether or not the particular evidence must be excluded. …