Ban No-Knock Warrants Now
SC has issued a moratorium on no-knock warrants in SC, but it is not permanent.
It should be.
No amount of training on Fourth Amendment law is going to resolve the problems that are inherent in no-knock warrants – excessive force against suspects and innocent citizens, unnecessary law enforcement deaths and injuries, and what is essentially a license to kill for law enforcement.
Although the US Supreme Court has issued guidelines for the constitutional use of no-knock warrants (see Wilson v. Arkansas and Richards v. Wisconsin), they do not go far enough, and, even when police are within the US Supreme Court’s guidelines, no-knock warrants can result in gross, reckless, abuses of power by the police.
Unless law enforcement is taking down a cartel, organized crime, or some individual who is known to be armed and who is known to be violent against law enforcement, there is no justification for no-knock warrants.
Make the moratorium permanent.
Moratorium on No-Knock Warrants in SC: Make it Permanent
Last month, the Chief Justice of the SC Supreme Court signed an Order declaring a temporary moratorium on no-knock warrants in SC.
Not because cops are shooting and killing people for no reason. Not because cops are getting shot by people defending their homes against armed invaders when police break their doors down without announcing who they are.
It’s because SC judges “do not understand the gravity of no-knock warrants,” they do not understand the constitutional requirements before they can sign a no-knock warrant, and they routinely issue no-knocks “upon request without further inquiry:”
Magistrates issue the majority of search warrants in South Carolina. A recent survey of magistrates revealed that most do not understand the gravity of no-knock warrants and do not discern the heightened requirements for issuing a no-knock warrant. It further appears that no-knock search warrants are routinely issued upon request without further inquiry. In recognition of the dangers that the execution of no-knock warrants present to law enforcement and members of the public, and in order to ensure that these warrants are issued based upon the proper constitutional and statutory criteria,
I FIND it necessary to address the issuance of no-knock search warrants by circuit and summary court judges statewide.
The ban is temporary, and it will only be in place “until instruction is provided to circuit and summary court judges statewide as to the criteria to be used to determine whether a requested no-knock warrant should be issued:”
Pursuant to Article V, Section 4 of the South Carolina Constitution,
IT IS ORDERED that a moratorium upon the issuance of no-knock warrants by all circuit and summary court judges of this state take effect immediately and remain in effect until instruction is provided to circuit and summary court judges statewide as to the criteria to be used to determine whether a requested no-knock warrant should be issued. This instruction will be provided by the South Carolina Judicial Branch.
The provisions of this order are effective immediately and remain in effect unless amended or revoked by subsequent order of the Chief Justice.
The Chief Justice may be surprised to learn that many magistrates will sign any warrant an officer presents to them “upon request without further inquiry” – training on US Supreme Court precedent is not going to change that.
More importantly, even if every magistrate asks the right questions and ensures that every no-knock warrant is issued within the bounds of the criteria announced by the US Supreme Court, it won’t fix the problem – people will die. People will still be beaten and shot. Police officers will still be shot.
No-Knock Warrants Lead to Unnecessary Violence
If you kick in someone’s door in the middle of the night without announcing yourself, especially if you are not dressed in a police uniform, you can expect violence. Years of experience with no-knock warrants prove that there will be unnecessary violence.
When police shoot or kill someone during the execution of a no-knock warrant, they are not prosecuted. Often, they are not even disciplined by their department. They might even be protected from civil liability under the Doctrine of Qualified Immunity.
It’s a license to kill, plain and simple, and people are dying.
When a homeowner or resident grabs a pistol and fires at the armed intruders who just broke their door down at 2 am, they are arrested and charged with assault on an officer. Even though the officer did not announce that they were police, and even though the officer is not dressed like a police officer.
The Castle Doctrine and No-Knock Warrants
Why would a homeowner pick up a gun and shoot at an armed intruder who just kicked their door in?
Because they have the right to defend themselves.
Police also have the right to enter a home and search or make an arrest pursuant to a warrant based on probable cause. But how is the homeowner supposed to know who they are and what they are doing if they don’t knock and announce themselves?
Your home is your castle, you have no duty to retreat when you are attacked in your home, and you have the right to use deadly force to defend yourself and your family.
Why would police need to risk death or serious injury to themselves, innocent bystanders, or even a guilty-as-hell suspect, unless they are taking down a cartel boss or someone who is known to be armed and hostile to police?
Is it likely that police will make the arrest and no evidence will be lost if they wear a police uniform and announce “police!” before and after knocking the door down? In most cases, yes.
In the very few scenarios where someone will try to flush their drugs after police knock on the door, is it worth killing someone or risking someone killing the officers to execute a no-knock warrant? The penalty for drug crimes is not death. The penalty for flushing drugs down the toilet is not death.
The rationalization for no-knock warrants is that the police officers will be put in danger if they knock and announce themselves. But, in most cases, aren’t they putting themselves and innocent civilians in danger by not announcing themselves?
How often do police request a no-knock warrant because of an honest belief that the residents will try to kill them if they knock on the door? Paradoxically, many ordinary people will try to kill them if they break the door down in the middle of the night, so aren’t they creating the very scenario they are claiming to be avoiding with a no-knock warrant?
Or is the real justification for most no-knock warrants a desire to play with military-grade equipment, to get the rush from a simulated combat-type scenario, and to play soldier for just a few moments?
To our Supreme Court and the SC legislature:
Ban no-knock warrants, except in cases where the target is proven to be a violent threat to law enforcement – and – law enforcement has confirmed that there are no innocent civilians in the home.
SC Criminal Defense Lawyer in Charleston, SC
If you have been charged with a crime in SC or believe you are under investigation, call Charleston, SC criminal defense attorney Grant B. Smaldone now at (843) 808-2100 or send us a message to speak with a SC criminal defense lawyer today.