Posts Tagged ‘Fourth Amendment’

No knocks are a no go

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This was originally posted on RRFAAE back in 24 December, before the old VPS took a dump

No-knock warrants have been controversial ever since they’ve started, and they’ve only been on the rise since the early 1980’s when the war on drugs started gaining steam. Proponents argue that they are needed in cases because evidence may be destroyed in the time between the police announce their presence, show the warrant, and start to conduct a search in an orderly and constitutional, manner. However, these no-knock warrants violate what was desired when the 4th and 5th Amendments were written.

Here is the text of the Fourth Amendment:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

And the Fifth:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Quite possibly the largest issue with no-knock warrants are the fact that a majority are used in enforcement of drug control laws (which are themselves questionable in the first place). The problem is due to the fact that, as Radley Balko and Joel Berger state in a Wall Street Journal piece, information about the purported locations of these offenses are suspect since they come from confidential informants, many, if not most, of which are criminals themselves looking to get sentence reductions or a cut of ‘forfeited’ cash assets. Certainly this doesn’t meant that all information is bad, however it has been shown that in many cases, information is either incorrect or completely falsified. That fact alone lies contrary to what the Fourth Amendment says in regards to warrants being issued only on presentation of probable cause and a description of the place to be searched.

With such legal principals such as requiring proof beyond a reasonable doubt to secure a conviction and the 4th and 5th Amendments, it’s quite clear that The Founding Fathers of this country would rather risk the chance of a guilty man going free than an innocent man losing his liberties. The outcome of no-knock warrants gone bad come in direct conflict with the protections envisioned by The Founders.

A recent Fox News article covered a recently botched raid in Minnesota. A SWAT team busted into the house of a Hmong family without announcing their identities or purpose for being there. Vang Khang reacted perfectly rationally when he grabbed his shotgun and fired shots in self defense against an unknown intruder. By the family’s count, twenty-two rounds came in a return volley of fire, and the situation ended when one of the son’s shouted that it was the police. This example fortunately resulted in no injuries or deaths. However, this is an exception to how botched raids normally turn out. Regardless, Mr. Khang’s liberties were improperly revoked without due process – a direct violation of the constitution. An excerpt from the article shows the extent of the violation of the constitution:

In the Minneapolis case, the nature of the tip and precisely what police were looking for were not disclosed; they have not released the search warrant. And it was not clear how far off the mark the informant was in supplying the address.

One of the benefits of the written word is that it gives me an opportunity to organize and present my thoughts in a rational manner, as compared to my initial expression upon first reading that statement. The validity of these warrants are constitutionally questionable as is, but it can’t get more blatantly wrong when the object of the search isn’t disclosed.

As I mentioned, the above example is a rare exception to the normal outcomes of these botched raids. In 2006, 92 year old Kathryn Johnston was killed by law enforcement after she fired in self defense in response to a no-knock raid. Even more disturbing is that according to a Christian Science Monitor article:

Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington says the raid was based on an anonymous informant known only as “Sam,” who has since denied ever buying drugs in the house and alleges that he was asked to lie by police.

Someone getting killed as a result of completely false information… I can’t begin to describe my disgust that goes with that.

Probably the thing that makes these tragedies due to constitutional contempt even worse is the fact that those responsible for the raid don’t take responsibility for the act a majority of the time. In a response to a botched raid that Balko discussed in another publication, one of the officers commented “Obviously, there was a breakdown in communication. These were relatively inexperienced officers, and they may have been less than vigilant” (Pg. 5 of the publication, Pg. 9 in the actual PDF). I’d say that there was a breakdown in the system that far exceeded the incompetency of the officers involved in the raid.

Certainly there is a need for raids by SWAT teams, such as hostage situations. I’m not trying to argue against that with this piece. However, these situations very rare in comparison to the no-knock drug searches that are commonly employed by teams currently. These situations don’t even concern searches or warrants. When you’re dealing with a hostage situation, most everyone and their kid brother are going to know anyways. The issue involved here are no-knock warrants and their execution by SWAT teams. As evidenced by the examples shown above (a small sampling), the results of misinformed raids lead to serious liberties lost to the victims.

As stated, with the outcome of the botched serving of no-knock warrants being in direct conflict with the visions of The Founding Fathers, nothing short of their complete ban is adequate to secure the liberties of the citizens of this great country. Certainly knock-announce warrants might have errors, but these aren’t going to lead to the kind of results as described above. This is why any claims made to the rarity of incorrectly served no-knocks should countered with the fact that, as stated above, the mere possibility of an incorrectly served no-knock warrant violates not just Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution as stated earlier, but also the Fifth Amendment as well by denying liberties without due process.