When seeking a warrant to search a drug dealer's home, an officer should automatically ask for permission to enter without knocking on the door, right? After all, drug dealers are likely to destroy the evidence. And many of them keep firearms which are a threat to officer safety. Considering these circumstances, it should never be necessary to knock before entering a drug dealer's residence to execute a search warrant, right? Wrong.
In Wilson v. Arkansas (1995), the United States Supreme Court decided that the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures included a requirement that police officers must knock on the door and announce their identity and purpose before forcibly entering a dwelling. However, the high court also recognized that there must be exceptions to this requirement, leaving the matter open to lower courts to determine "the circumstances under which an unannounced entry would be reasonable."
Based upon that decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court created a blanket exception to this new requirement, concluding that officers are never required to knock and announce their presence when they execute a search warrant in a felony drug investigation. That decision prompted the United States Supreme Court to issue its ruling in Richards v. Wisconsin (1997): there can be no blanket exceptions to the "knock-and-announce" rules.
In reaching its decision, the high court found that the "practice of allowing magistrates to issue no-knock warrants seems entirely reasonable when sufficient cause to do so can be demonstrated ahead of time." However, "in order to justify a 'no-knock' entry, the police must have a reasonable suspicion that knocking and announcing, under the particular circumstances, would be dangerous and futile."
The high court's decision also added flexibility to the no-knock exception. Even if the magistrate does not authorize a no-knock entry, that decision "should not be interpreted to remove the officer's authority to exercise independent judgment concerning the wisdom of a no-knock entry at the time the warrant is being executed." Therefore, even if the warrant does not specifically permit a no-knock entry, officers will have the discretion to dispense with the "knock-and-announce" requirement if the facts and circumstances at the time the warrant is executed create a reasonable suspicion of danger or destruction of evidence.
So when can an officer execute a search warrant without first knocking and announcing? Only if the specific facts of the case will justify it. Of course, it is always best to have that authorization in the warrant, but an officer should be prepared to explain to the judge or magistrate why the occupants of the dwelling to be entered are particularly likely to be dangerous, or why those specific occupants are well prepared to destroy evidence. And if officers decide to make an no-knock entry without authorization in the warrant, they should be prepared to explain what happened immediately prior to entering the dwelling that caused them to suspect danger or destruction of evidence. Simply put, this new rule should be a matter of common sense for any officer: always be prepared to explain why your actions are reasonable under the circumstances.