An open secret that has been brought up through the tragedies of Breonna Taylor's and Amir Locke's passings conflicts with our right to the Fourth Amendment. No-knock warrants are basically a form of authority that law enforcement is granted with via a warrant, to enter the premises without giving notice under the reasonable suspicion principle as announcing their presence can result in destruction of evidence or probable harm on the officers.
Typically, these intrusions conducted by the police or SWAT teams are approved for these warrants for drug-related purposes though they are more complicated and impactful than what can be read on paper. It is estimated that around 40,000 to 80,000 no-knock warrants are granted each year nationwide, yet there is a lack of data that tracks these authorizations and their circumstances. Property damage is a common happening when these raids occur, and either drugs are not to be found or the location of the residency or building is incorrect, leading to many civilians being harmed in the process (these entries happen during sleeping hours when it should be from 6am-10pm). This is a dangerous tactic that not only puts residents in danger but also law enforcement and surrounding folks.
Between 2010 and 2016, at least ninety-four people died during the execution of no-knock search warrants, thirteen of whom were police officers. So far, 4 states have banned no-knock warrants as well as many cities in others. There is not a federal ban on these warrants as of yet, but 59% of Americans agree that no-knock warrants bring harm to their communities according to the Center for Justice Research at Texas Southern University.
A closer look to this process includes the probability that a no-knock warrant will be approved by the appointed judge, and usually, local judges have less judicial scrutiny on the case (depending on their political ideation) and especially if they have a strong connection with law enforcement. That's what happened to the no-knock warrant that allowed the entry of Breonna Taylor's boyfriend's home where he and the suspected drugs were nowhere in sight, also where Breonna Taylor was shot and killed during unawakening hours. Since then, one officer named Kelly Goodlett pleaded guilty for inputting false information to argue for the warrant, claiming that law enforcement verified with postal inspectors about suspected drug packages that were delivered at Taylor's boyfriend's home. The officer who shot Breonna Taylor pleaded not guilty and was acquitted.
Another factor in these violent processes is that law enforcement is not required to wear identification when executing a search and seizure. When going unannounced along with crossing the threshold with no badge or a uniform, there have many situations that the person(s) inside has attacked or shot them due to their unfamiliarity when officers enter, facing prison time for an incident that could have been prevented.
When a seizure occurs, its reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment will depend on the facts and circumstances of the particular case. And one circumstance that may weigh against the constitutionality of a seizure is where the officer involved is not in uniform and fails to identify him or herself as law enforcement. Furthermore, exigent circumstances must be based on the “particular circumstances” of each case and may not amount to a “blanket exception to the [knock and announce] requirement” for “entire categor[ies] of criminal activity," reported by Dolan. These circumstances have been transferred from an exception to a rule, connecting these applications to the War on Drugs.
Originally, no-knock warrants were seen as weary by law enforcement. There was this wave of response that hesitated the fact that entering a home without saying a whisper and barge in felt extreme and unnecessary as a consensus to many departments. Under Nixon's leadership, it then became a policy to track down on and criminalize drug trafficking, gaining population for the militarization of law enforcement that we know today. This ranges from riot teams, flash-bang grenades, pepper spray, armed with guns, all that can be utilized during a search under a no-knock warrant. A 2017 study conducted by Research & Politics showed that in law enforcement agencies that use military equipment, officers are more likely to display violent behavior and are more likely to kill the civilians they are supposed to protect and serve.
Protocols placed on law enforcement compared to the military are not as enforced and restricted, and law enforcement intentionally makes a statement with the domestic force they are premised to have. Their power has been extremely expanded since the War on Drugs, and their responsibility to request no-knock warrants needs more scrutiny and guardrails, especially as the Justice Department does not overhead these warrants up until the protests over Breonna Taylor's unlawful death.
Later in 2021 under the Biden Administration, the Justice Department announced a policy that bans federal agency officers from using chokeholds during arrests and no-knock entries while utilizing warrants would be put into place. For state and local levels, it depends on each community and their local prosecutors and state officials for how these warrants affect their constituents. As a known understanding that law enforcement is decentralized in the United States, banning no-knock warrants is backed up the strongest research and data, as the alternatives and further restrictions on current policy tend to find themselves with loopholes that cycle back to the collateral damage that this access to unconstitutional searches produces. In preventing more crises and fatalities, legislative reform should be comprehensive and not piecemeal (addresses multilayer of policing instead of on-site to an emergency). It is without say that police misconduct cannot be exceptional to the no-knock warrant.
If interested in getting involved with no-knock warrant legislation, please visit endallknocks.org.
- No-knock Warrants Are Under Scrutiny Again : 1A : NPR
- “No-Knock” Warrants and Other Law Enforcement Identification Considerations (congress.gov)
- The War on Drugs: The War At Your Door: No Knock Warrants on Apple Podcasts
- No-knock warrants, revisited - The Washington Post
- Poisoning Our Police: How the Militarization Mindset Threatens Constitutional Rights and Public Safety (pogo.org)
- Dolan, B. (2019). TO KNOCK OR NOT TO KNOCK? NO-KNOCK WARRANTS AND CONFRONTATIONAL POLICING. John's Law Review, 93(1), 201-231. Retrieved from https://libproxy.csun.edu/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/knock-not-no-warrants-confrontational-policing/docview/2308510008/se-2