WASHINGTON — No-knock warrants have been the subject of many questions we’ve received at WUSA9 following the murder of Breonna Taylor by Louisville police.
Arthur Ago, Director of the Criminal Justice Project at the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, highlighted the connection between the 4th amendment and the use of no-knock warrants. He also verified if and how no-knock laws are presented in DC, Maryland and Virginia.
"The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution requires that the police, before they enter your home with a search warrant or an arrest warrant for that matter, knock and announce themselves," said Ago. "That's the rule that's the requirement."
But there’s an exception to that rule and according to Ago: the no-knock warrant.
"Some jurisdictions actually put that into their criminal codes, saying there is a, an exception to the knock and announce rule," said Ago. "Other jurisdictions have, like the Supreme Court has, put that into case law which the police also have to follow."
Are no-knock warrants in DC, Maryland and Virginia part of criminal code or case law? Does that distinction impact their efficacy? Ago says it depends.
"Virginia has the no-knock exception built into its criminal code," explained Ago. "DC and Maryland have that exception built into their case law. The effect is the same though." He said no-knock warrants are permitted as an exception to the rule requiring the police to knock and announce themselves.
Are no-knock warrants issued by the state or county?
According to Ago warrants are issued by judges in the jurisdictions where they're executed, but he added "warrant laws are state-level laws."
According to Dr. Howard Henderson the Founding Director of the Center for Justice Research (who cited reports from police departments in cities across America), between 10 and 12 people a year who are found to be innocent of the crime for which a no-knock warrant was issued, are killed by police in the process of following through with the warrant. Henderson is calling into question whether states should issue no-knock warrants for low-level offenses, like drug charges, as in the case of the warrant that lead to the murder of Breonna Taylor.
"If you decriminalize drug possession you also cut back on the systematic response to that drug possession," said Henderson. "So at that point, there's no need for you to run in Breonna Taylor's house because you decriminalize the possession of the drug. The question that we have to ask is, is the potential death of an individual and officers harm in these cases to is that worth what they were going in there to get. That's the issue that we need to look at."
According to Henderson, a national database for keeping track of deaths as a result of a no-knock warrant does not exist. In order to get that information you have to send a request into local police departments and gather the information, but no federal government statutes exist to keep this information in one place.