Friday, June 16, 2006

"The Police Can Now Knock Down Your Door, Enter & Search," says U.S. Supreme Court

The law required police to knock and announce before entering your home. Not anymore, according to a ruling handed down today by the U.S. Supreme Court (the case is Hudson vs. Michigan, 04-1360):
Supreme Court backs wide police search powers:
A divided Supreme Court said Thursday that police with search warrants who barged into homes without knocking didn't risk having evidence they uncovered tossed out at trial, a ruling that civil liberties advocates called a major blow to privacy protections.

The 5-4 decision turns on a distinction drawn between how police enter a home and what they find once they're inside.

Yes, the so-called knock-and-announce rule is violated when police fail to announce their presence and wait a reasonable amount of time before entering someone's home. But no, that violation isn't sufficiently related to what they find during a search to justify banning drugs, guns or any other evidence that's uncovered from later criminal proceedings.

Justice Antonin Scalia said the increasing professionalism of police and the threat of civil suits was enough of a deterrent to keep officers from abusing their authority.

What planet is he living on?
Four justices, Alito, Roberts, Scalia and Thomas, would have given prosecutors a more sweeping victory but did not have the vote of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. Kennedy joined in most of the ruling but wrote to explain that he did not support ending the knock requirement.

"It bears repeating that it is a serious matter if law enforcement officers violate the sanctity of the home by ignoring the requisites of lawful entry," said Kennedy, who is expected to be an important swing voter at the court.

Kennedy said that legislatures can intervene if police officers do not "act competently and lawfully." He also said that people whose homes are wrongly searched can file a civil rights lawsuit.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, said that there are public-interest law firms and attorneys who specialize in civil rights grievances.

"Breyer said that though police departments can be sued, there is no evidence of anyone collecting much money in such cases."

It's now official - the People of the U.S. have NOBODY safeguarding their Constitutional rights. Not the Congress, not the President, and not the "last stop," the Supreme Court.

I suppose that men who have spent most of the waking hours of their entire adult life submersed in all things law (and getting paid for it) have no idea what a royal pain in the ass seeking justice in a court of law is. It's expensive, it's all-consuming of your life (it takes years for a case to get to court), and costs a large fortune. The cost of pre-trial depositions alone is enough to discourage most people from turning to the courts for justice. While you're in depositions (and then once the trial starts), you're not working. No income.

Once you finally get to court, you're on the hook for the costs of the courtroom - it's thousands of dollars per day. If you prevail, if you win your case, you can get the court to order the other side to pay, but that's after the trial. You are required to pay court costs up front. The best you'll get is reimbursed. That could take years if the other side appeals, and expect the other side to appeal. They can afford it; they're the government. The police, the district attorney, they're not actually spending their own money - they're spending the PEOPLE'S money. And getting paid for it, too, because they're on the clock.

What the hell are these justices thinking? Can they really be this out of touch and removed from the ordinary American's way of life?

"Dissenting justices predicted that police will now feel free to ignore previous court rulings requiring officers with search warrants to knock and announce themselves to avoid running afoul of the Constitution's Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches."

"The knock-and-announce rule is dead in the United States," said David Moran, a Wayne State University professor who represented Hudson. "There are going to be a lot more doors knocked down. There are going to be a lot more people terrified and humiliated."
To exclude evidence from a trial merely because of an entry violation, the court said, would unnecessarily increase the risk of "grave, adverse" consequences, including the technical exoneration of guilty - and often dangerous - criminals.

The "jackpot" for criminals would be enormous, wrote Scalia, who was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. He said the court essentially would be issuing "get-out-of-jail-free" cards if it indulged suppression of evidence based on an entry violation.

Scalia, Roberts, Thomas and Alito went further, and seemed to question decades of precedents on the exclusionary rule, which calls for booting evidence when police break the law during a search. Kennedy didn't join that part of the opinion, however, and wrote a concurrence that said the exclusionary rule wasn't in jeopardy.

Justice Stephen Breyer penned a sharp dissent that accused the court of misreading its own precedents and defying "elementary logic." Compliance with knock-and-announce procedure is one way that the court judges the reasonableness of a search under the Constitution's Fourth Amendment, he wrote. And the threat of losing valuable evidence for defying the rules is the "driving purpose" behind provisions such as the knock-and-announce requirement.

The court's ruling means that a Detroit man's conviction for drug possession stands, despite the fact that police rushed into his home without knocking. Once inside, they found crack cocaine in Booker Hudson's pockets.

Detroit police acknowledge violating the knock-and-announce rule when they called out their presence at Hudson's door, failed to knock, then went inside three seconds to five seconds later.
Hudson's attorneys, relying on a line of court decisions over the last decade, said the officers' failure to knock and announce themselves before entering made the evidence they obtained the "fruit" of a "poisonous tree."

That idea is bedrock in Fourth Amendment law, which governs when and how government may search a citizen's home or person. It presumes, most of the time, that any illegal action during a search taints all the evidence that's turned up. It's the reason that confessions that come after a beating aren't any good and that an unreasonable search performed without a warrant can't help convict someone.

Scalia wrote, though, that "the interests protected by the knock-and-announce requirement are quite different." He said the rule was intended to protect police whose unannounced entry might trigger a self-defense instinct by a homeowner, to give citizens the chance to comply with requests for police access and to give homeowners time to "collect" themselves before answering the door.

I would like to see the precedents that Scalia is basing this twisted logic on.
Those interests don't extend to shielding relevant evidence from government eyes, he wrote.

Breyer said the court's opinion "weakens, perhaps destroys, much of the practical value of the Constitution's knock-and-announce protection." He said separating the manner of entry from the ensuing search "slices the violation too finely." He said the failure to knock and announce wasn't an independent event, but a "factor that renders the search constitutionally defective."

Four justices complained in the dissent that the decision erases more than 90 years of Supreme Court precedent.

"It weakens, perhaps destroys, much of the practical value of the Constitution's knock-and-announce protection," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for himself and Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Booker Hudson had lost his case in a Michigan appeals court. Justices agreed to hear his appeal last June, four days before Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's surprise announcement that she was retiring.

O'Connor was still on the bench in January when his case was first argued, and she seemed ready to vote with Hudson. "Is there no policy of protecting the homeowner a little bit and the sanctity of the home from this immediate entry?" she asked.

She retired before the case was decided, and a new argument was held this spring so that her successor, Alito, could participate, apparently to break a 4-4 tie.

On its own, what the U.S. Supreme Court has done is chilling. But when you consider that the U.S. is now arresting and prosecuting people for thought crimes (this has gotten little notice in the media), it's positively a surreal nightmare:
Prosecutors presented no evidence that any of the 11 convicted men had planned U.S. attacks. But several admitted in court that they had intended to use their training to fight U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and one, Muhammed Aatique, said at his guilty plea hearing in 2003: "The United States could have been one of the possible opponents if the conspiracy had gone ahead."

Law enforcement officials said yesterday that prevention played a significant role in the decision to prosecute the case. That emphasis would continue in the post-Sept. 11 climate, they said.

"You had a cadre of people who had gone overseas and obtained training from violent jihadist groups whose primary ideology is hatred of the United States," said one law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

"They were walking around the national capital area with training in small arms, infantry tactics, any number of skills that could be used to mount a strike," the official said. "It has to be unacceptable to wait until there is a threat of actual direct violence to take action."

1 comment:

Pallidoris said...

I'm actually for keeping evidence that was obtained improperly. Rather than tossing out objectively valid evidence because of procedural or conduct violations, lets keep the evidence but severly punish those that commit the procedural or conduct violations: the police officers specifically involved, the Chief of Police, and the Commissioner. NAIL THEM in the pocketbooks, give them jailtime, and in certain cases, dump them onto the streets (fire their asses).

This way, criminals don't skate on technicalities, but said technicalities in evidence collection rapidly become rare as cops and their bosses eat LOT'S of shit. Put the consequences for bad acting where it belongs all around, on the criminal AND the cops that violate the regs, law, and Constitution.