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Friday, June 16, 2006

No Knock, No Problem

Updated at 0400.

As you might expect, Radley Balko (multiple posts at link) is all over today's grotesque Supreme Court decision in Hudson v. Michigan.

SCOTUSblog reports:
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 protected...is 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).
Here's Balko in a Cato Institute press release:
"The rise of paramilitary-type police units conducting 'no-knock' raids on American citizens is a disturbing trend in domestic law enforcement. Police excess, procedural errors, and reliance on 'confidential informants' of dubious character have caused hundreds of violent raids to be waged on completely innocent civilians. Dozens of nonviolent offenders, bystanders, and innocents have been killed or injured as a result. Because the courts have set the bar extremely high in allowing victims of botched raids to sue police officers and their superiors, the only real defense left against wholesale disregard for the rule requiring police to 'knock and announce' before entering private residences was to exclude evidence seized in illegal raids. Today, the Supreme Court removed that defense.
Apparently the majority of the Court believes that civil remedies (i.e., the possibility of lawsuits) are enough to keep the police on the straight and narrow. But as Balko says:
Bullshit, of course. The only time a suspect wins a civil liability case when police violate the knock-and-announce rule is when they have very clearly screwed up, i.e. gotten the wrong address, or killed someone. And even then, it's rare.
Not surprisingly, the five Justices in the majority were Chief Justice Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Kennedy and Scalia, who wrote the opinion. Kennedy filed a concurring opinion.

Head over to The Agitator (Balko's blog) for much more on the continuation of the sometimes slow - but always sure - increase in the power of the State over its citizens. Legal types should check out Orin Kerr's many postings on Hudson.

Update: I just read part of Scalia's "reasoning" as cited in the Washington Post and it is beyond scary:
Scalia's opinion focused on the guilty defendants who go free when otherwise valid evidence is thrown out of court. He concluded that that "social cost" is too high in relation to whatever additional privacy protection residents get from the "knock and announce" rule.
Scalia's a staunch "original intent" strict constructionist, so I'm sure I've overlooked the clause in the Constitution that says that "social costs" should override constitutional protections and that it's permissible to screw the innocent in order to punish the guilty.
Scalia argued that the law enforcement landscape has changed dramatically since 1961, when the Supreme Court first imposed an exclusionary rule on the states to protect against warrantless searches. Today's police are more professional than those of 45 years ago, he observed, and there is "increasing evidence that police forces across the United States take the constitutional rights of citizens seriously."
If this is true, then why did Scalia need to give police a greater ability to disregard those rights? In fact, why did SCOTUS even need to hear this case? The fact is, it doesn't matter if 10%, or 50%, or 99% of police forces take the constitutional rights of citizens seriously: the exclusionary rule was established to protect the citizenry whenever they don't, regardless of how often that is. Following Scalia's "logic," if you believe that the government's gotten better about "allowing" its citizens to have freedom of speech, you could argue that we no longer need the First Amendment.

As a citizen there's really nothing you want more in your last line of defense than someone who sides with the government almost as a matter of reflex. Can somebody check the statue of justice? I think someone stole her blindfold and put it on Scalia.

Blogger Nicki said...

Here's the thing, though... Looking at it from another perspective. There is no constitutional provision that says police must knock and announce themselves. That has been precedent -- and a good one, IMO. However, if they have a legal warrant and abide by said warrant, the constitutional requirement has been met, has it not?

11:28  
Blogger The Cranky Insomniac said...

Well, there's that whole unreasonable search and seizure thing...

Also, I'm not familiar with the phrase "another perspective." What does that mean?

11:41  

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