Friday, May 23, 2008

To Knock, or Not To Knock....

Back in 1995, case number 514 U.S. 927 appeared before that highest of high benches; those keepers of the writ of law; the new High Priests of our land: The Supreme Court. Commonly known as Wilson v. Arkansas, this case gave the land the joys of the No Knock warrant.

For those of you who are unaware of this particular travesty, the No Knock warrant is the type of search warrant which allows police to enter your home without identifying themselves. Basically, it's the Gestapo, bursting down your door, usually between 1 and 4 in the morning, with their guns pulled, in the hopes that you won't destroy your drug evidence--because evidence can always be destroyed in the 30 seconds it takes a cop to announce himself.

Unsurprisingly, this type of search warrant has led to the unnecessary deaths of police and citizens alike. People like the father of 3, Police Officer Ron Jones. Officer Jones was playing stormtrooper, when he burst through the door of one Corey Maye. Maye had a young daughter in his house, and being the responsible father, when he was woken by someone breaking and entering, he made a decision and protected his family. After killing Officer Jones, he realized that it was the police breaking into his home, so he surrendered; only to now be serving a life sentence without parole solely for the perfectly reasonable action of protecting his family.

Of course, things don't always end up this nicely for those being served warrants. Kathryn Johnston, a 92 year old woman, was surprised by one of these things, and she ended up dead. Despite the fact that anonymous tips--which are almost universally the cause of no-knock warrants--informed the police that Mrs. Johnston held a large cache of drugs in her home, no drugs were ever found. All that happened was Mrs. Johnston was killed. Oh wait, that's not all that happened; in an effort to exculpate themselves from the blame of the death of Mrs. Johnston the officers on the scene planted three bags of marijuana.

How's that for police work.

Amazingly for Mrs. Johnston family, Mrs. Johnston is apparently getting some justice in this world. Fox News is reporting this morning that the officer in question gets to spend the next 5 years in prison.

How did we become this? At what point did our homes stop being sacrosanct and start being subject to searches and invasion all at the random voice of a drug informant?

If someone breaks into my home without announcing who they are, I am going to do everything in my power to stop them, and leave them dead. My family is that important to me--and quite frankly, other humans just aren't.

Of course the easiest way to stop all of these senseless killings, of both the gestapo and those being ground under their heel, is to simply outlaw no-knock searches. Make everything be a knock-and-announce search, and at that point, the folks inside the house know it's a cop coming through their windows waving guns at their family.

Wilson v. Arkansas gave us three guidelines for a no-knock search:
  • "Circumstances present a threat of physical violence"
  • There is "reason to believe that evidence would likely be destroyed if advance notice were given"
  • Knocking and announcing would be "futile" Richards v. Wisconsin, 520 U.S. 385, 394 (1997)
Let's be perfectly honest here--the first, the threat of physical violence, is always there. This is America, I have guns. Other folks have guns. It's a part of our national identity and culture. We have a strong history of self-defense, and I for one refuse to rely on the gestapo for that defense; especially where my family is concerned. Additionally, if there weren't guns, then there would be knives, swords, baseball bats, screwdrivers, forks, chainsaws, rakes, shovels, and all sorts of other implements with which I can carry out all sorts of body harming, if not outright deadly, violence.

The other two, those are just silly. Even with no-knock, evidence can be destroyed, and if it's "futile" to knock and announce, it's also not hurting anything to do so.

Of course, those "reasons" are really just random justification for the act. After all, the law of the land as defined in Hudson v. Michigan is that violations of the knock-and-announce rules (i.e. not knocking on a knock and announce warrant) is not a valid reason to exclude evidence.

Kind of scary, no?

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