ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Feb 1, 2021) – Last week, a Maryland Senate committee held a hearing on a bill that would ban “no-knock” warrants and effectively nullify several Supreme Court opinions in practice and effect.
Sen. Jill Carter (D-Baltimore) introduced Senate Bill 419 (SB419) on Jan. 20. The legislation would repeal sections in Maryland statutes that authorize judges to issue “no-knock” warrants. Under the proposed law, a warrant application “may NOT contain a request that the search warrant authorize the executing law enforcement officer to enter the building, apartment, premises, place, or thing to be searched without giving notice of the officer’s authority or purpose.”
Under current law, police can apply for a no-nock warrant if they believe property subject to seizure may be destroyed if they believe officers could be at risk.
SB419 also includes specific language prohibiting no-knock entry.
“A police officer who is executing a search warrant may not, for the purpose of executing the warrant, enter the building, apartment, premises, place, or thing specified in the warrant to be searched without giving notice of the officer’s authority or purpose.”
On Jan. 28, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee held a hearing on SB419.
A similar bill was introduced in the Maryland House.
Nullifying the Supreme Court
Passage of SB419 would effectively nullify and make irrelevant several Supreme Court opinions that give police across the U.S. legal cover for conducting no-knock raids.
In the 1995 case Wilson v. Arkansas, the Supreme Court established that police must peacefully knock, announce their presence, and allow time for the occupants to open the door before entering a home to serve a warrant. But the Court allowed for “exigent circumstance” exceptions if police fear violence, if the suspect is a flight risk, or if officers fear the suspect will destroy evidence.
As journalist Radley Balko notes, police utilized this exception to the fullest extent, “simply declaring in search warrant affidavits that all drug dealers are a threat to dispose of evidence, flee or assault the officers at the door.”
The SCOTUS eliminated this blanket exception in Richards v. Wisconsin (1997) requiring police to show why a specific individual is a threat to dispose of evidence, commit an act of violence or flee from police. But even with the opinion, the bar for obtaining a no-knock warrant remains low.
“In order to justify a ‘no-knock’ entry, the police must have a reasonable suspicion that knocking and announcing their presence, under the particular circumstances, would be dangerous or futile, or that it would inhibit the effective investigation of the crime by, for example, allowing the destruction of evidence.” [Emphasis added]
Reasonable suspicion is an extremely low legal bar to meet. Through this exception, police can justify no-knock entry on any warrant application. In effect, the parameters in the SCOTUS ruling make no-knock the norm instead of the exception.
A third Supreme Court ruling effectively eliminated the consequences for violating the “knock and announce” requirement even without a no-knock warrant. In Hudson v. Michigan (2006), the High Court held that evidence seized in violation of knock and announce was not subject to the exclusionary rule. In other words, police could still use the evidence in court even though they technically gathered it illegally.
Significantly, were it not for the dubious “incorporation doctrine” made up by the Supreme Crout based on the 14th Amendment that purportedly empowers the federal government to apply the Bill of Rights to the states, these cases would have never gone to federal court and we wouldn’t have these blanket rules.
Without specific restrictions from the state, police officers generally operate within the parameters set by the High Court. By passing restrictions on no-knock warrants, states set standards that go beyond the Supreme Court limits and in effect, nullify the SCOTUS opinion.
SB419 still needs to be brought up for a vote in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. It must pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.