As I’ve previously mentioned on this blog and my other blog, there is a problem of no-knock warrants being overused by police and judges who want to seize stolen property or drugs. During the execution of these warrants, armed police officers break down the door of an unsuspecting person’s home and rush in, without identifying themselves. This can lead to a situation where the home owner reasonably believes that the intruders are violent criminals, and tries to defend themselves, with unfortunate results. Here is such an example:
Ryan Frederick was in bed when he heard his door being knocked down. Fearing a return of the earlier burglars, he retrieved a gun and opened fire on his assailants, killing [Police Detective] Shivers. During the trial, Frederick’s neighbors testified that police made no audible announcement of their law-enforcement status, giving the man inside no warning of who he faced. For his act of self defense, Frederick was convicted of voluntary manslaughter by a jury, which rejected stiffer charges, but also recommended a maximum sentence of ten years. [The police did not find the marijuana plants that they were looking for, however it is believed that Frederick may have had some marijuana plants at some point. The police relied upon information from a burglar turned informant who had previously broken into Frederick’s home in deciding to search Frederick’s home for the drugs.]
The article that I linked to does a great job discussing the civil rights implications, however I would like to make a couple points:
1. No-knock warrants are dangerous for the police as well as the home owners. It is quite reasonable for a person whose door was just kicked down to open fire on the armed man that they see in their house, as armed home invaders have been known to do terrible things. That means that police who kick down doors and enter unannounced are running a risk, and should only run that risk when entering in that fashion is necessary to preserve life (such as a hostage situation, etc.)
2. Seizing drugs isn’t worth the risk of a no-knock warrant. I’m not going to go into a discussion of drug policy here, other than to say that seizing what are (incorrectly) believed to be a few marijuana plants just doesn’t justify the risk to either the police officers’ safety or the home owner’s safety. A regular search warrant would likely allow evidence to be seized, but even if a criminal were able to quickly destroy the drugs, it is far better that some petty criminal get away with possessing some small amount of drugs than to have a fatal situation like the one discussed above.
3. Botched raids like this are more common than I thought. The CATO Institute has a map on which they are tracked.