Thursday, June 15, 2006

Hudson v. Michigan - SCOTUS on Knock-and-Announce

Another split along liberal/conservative lines.
The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled on Thursday that a violation by the police of the "knock-and-announce" rule when they enter a home with a warrant does not bar the use of evidence gathered in the search. "What the knock-and-announce rule has never one's interest in preventing the government from seeing or taking evidence described in a warrant. Since the interests that were violated in this case have nothing to do with the seizure of the evidence, the exclusionary rule is inapplicable," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the majority opinion in Hudson v. Michigan (04-1360) -- a case that had been argued twice during this Term. A part of Scalia's opinion, saying that the result was dictated by the Court's prior precedents, had the support of only three other Justices. (Justice Kennedy's concurrence is available here; Justice Breyer's dissent is here.)
Orin Kerr discusses the logic.
One of the debates between Justice Scalia's majority opinion and Justice Breyer's dissenting opinion in the new knock-and-announce decision, Hudson v. Michigan, is which opinion is more consistent with the Court's Fourth Amendment precedents. According to Scalia, automatic suppression for a knock-and-announce violation is inconsisent with precedent; according to Breyer, precedents strong support such a rule. Which side is right?

As a doctrinal matter, it seems to me that Justice Scalia's majority opinion has it basically right. First, Fourth Amendment rules traditionally have focused on the facial validity of the warrant - the requirements of probable cause and particularity - rather than its execution. So long as the evidence discovered is within the scope of the warrant, the execution of the warrant traditionally receives very little constitutional scrutiny. Second, even where the Court has announced a constitutional suppression remedy, that remedy is typically limited by all sorts of exceptions such as good faith and fruit-of-the-poisonous tree doctrine. As every practicing criminal lawyer knows, when the police have a warrant the evidence is probably coming in even if the defense can find some technical violation along the way. So if the question is which rule fits most naturally into the preexisting framework of Fourth Amendment law, it seems pretty clear that it's the majority's rule, not the dissent's. Put another way, Scalia's opinion essentially restores the constitutional status quo.

He also discusses Breyer's "elementary logic"” argument calling it "pretty amateurish."

How Appealing has links to the decision and findings and also liked this AP report.
The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that police armed with a warrant can barge into homes and seize evidence even if they don't knock, a huge government victory that was decided by President Bush's new justices.

The 5-4 ruling signals the court's conservative shift following the departure of moderate Sandra Day O'Connor.

Dissenting justices predicted that police will now feel free to ignore previous court rulings that officers with search warrants must knock and announce themselves or run afoul of the Constitution's Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, said Detroit police acknowledge violating that rule when they called out their presence at a man's door, failed to knock, then went inside three seconds to five seconds later. The court has endorsed longer waits, of 15 seconds to 20 seconds.

"Whether that preliminary misstep had occurred or not, the police would have executed the warrant they had obtained, and would have discovered the gun and drugs inside the house," Scalia wrote.

Suppressing evidence is too high of a penalty, Scalia said, for errors by police in failing to properly announce themselves.

Personally, I think the no-knock warrant is an abomination. Not on fourth amendment grounds, but because the police have killed too many people using it and knocking down the wrong door. Violation of the "endorsed" time for an announced entry is interesting and Scalia does have a point that the discovery still would have occurred if the police had waited the longest time "endorsed."

I think this goes even further with respect to Breyer's opinion. If the police knocked and waited 14 seconds, or what appeared to be 10 seconds as could be claimed by a defendant, the court would have to throw out all of the evidence. That strikes me as an extreme travesty of justice.

Kennedy's joining with the majority provides an intelligent comment to the procedural aspects.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a moderate, joined the conservatives in most of the ruling. He wrote his own opinion, however, to say "it bears repeating that it is a serious matter if law enforcement officers violate the sanctity of the home by ignoring the requisites of lawful entry."

Kennedy said that legislatures can intervene if police officers do not "act competently and lawfully." He also said that people whose homes are wrongly searched can file a civil rights lawsuit.

There you go. Let the politicians enact law that defines what is reasonable and enforce it from that level. If the person searched has a valid complaint, they can use the law to support their civil rights claim.

I'd like to see a detailed explanation as to why this finding is wrong. Other than the dissent filings that is. I have a feeling that they will not be greatly understandable. (I could be wrong.)

I don't see this as effecting no-knock warrants in any way, and unfortunately, we'll have to see more deaths related to them before legislation is enacted that ensures that the innocent citizen is protected from police mistakes.

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