No-knock warrant


In the United States, a no-knock warrant is a warrant issued by a judge that allows law enforcement officers to enter a property without immediate prior notification of the residents, such as by knocking or ringing a doorbell. In most cases, law enforcement will identify themselves just before they forcefully enter the property. It is issued under the belief that any evidence they hope to find can be destroyed during the time that police identify themselves and the time they secure the area, or in the event where there is a large perceived threat to officer safety during the execution of the warrant.

The Department of Justice writes:

Federal judges and magistrates may lawfully and constitutionally issue "no-knock" warrants where circumstances justify a no-knock entry, and federal law enforcement officers may lawfully apply for such warrants under such circumstances. Although officers need not take affirmative steps to make an independent re-verification of the circumstances already recognized by a magistrate in issuing a no-knock warrant, such a warrant does not entitle officers to disregard reliable information clearly negating the existence of exigent circumstances when they actually receive such information before execution of the warrant.[1]


The number of no-knock raids has increased from 3,000 in 1981 to more than 50,000 in 2005, according to Peter Kraska, a criminologist at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond.[2] Raids that lead to deaths of innocent people are increasingly common; since the early 1980s, forty bystanders have been killed, according to the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.[2]


No-knock warrants have been controversial for various reasons. Some consider them to be unconstitutional. In addition, there have been cases where burglars have robbed homes by pretending to be officers with a no-knock warrant. There have been many cases where armed homeowners, believing that they are being invaded, have shot at officers, resulting in deaths on both sides. While it is legal to shoot a homeowner's dog when an officer fears for his/her life, there have been numerous high-profile cases in which family pets lacking the size, strength, or demeanor to attack officers have been shot, greatly increasing the risk of additional casualties in neighboring houses via overpenetrating bullets.[3]

Police and prosecutors are criticized for the use of no-knock search warrants. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution assures and protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. Police, civil libertarians, and/or criminals may interpret the phrase “unreasonable searches and seizures” in different ways. Police view unreasonable searches and seizures as entering a home or property without obtaining what is deemed as probable cause. Probable cause is based on the officer having reason to believe a crime has been committed or exigent circumstances defined in United States v. McConney: Emergency conditions. "Those circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to believe that entry (or other relevant prompt action) was necessary to prevent physical harm to the officers or other persons, the destruction of relevant evidence, the escape of a suspect, or some other consequence improperly frustrating legitimate law enforcement efforts."[4]

Phonesavanh case

In Cornelia, Georgia, a police informant alleged that he had bought $50 of methampthetamine from Wanis Thonetheva, a 30-year-old dealer at a residence belonging to Amanda Thonetheva, his mother. The dealer did not reside at the house, which contained no drugs or weapons, though a family with four young children lived in the house.[5] Police executed a no-knock, pre-dawn raid at 2:25am, with a SWAT team breaching a door with a ram and throwing a flash-bang stun grenade into a room with a 19 month old child. The grenade exploded inside the infant's crib, igniting the crib and his pillow, causing "blast burn injuries to the face and chest; a complex laceration of the nose, upper lip and face; 20% of the right upper lip missing; the external nose being separated from the underlying bone; and a large avulsion burn injury to the chest with a resulting left pulmonary contusion and sepsis"[6] The infant was placed in a medically induced coma, and needed a series of surgeries that cost more than a million dollars, becoming the subject of a lawsuit against the police department to pay medical bills. The legal case argues that children's toys, including a plastic child's pool were in the yard and the packaging for the play-pen the infant was sleeping in was next to the door the police breached, and the lawsuit alleges that police are "plainly incompetent" for failing to know that children were in the room.

The search yielded no drugs, no drug dealer and no weapons, and the drug dealer was arrested the next day without the use of flash-bang grenades.

The case was eventually settled, with the county paying $3.6 million, including approximately $1.65 million in pain and suffering.[7]

Other examples

See also


External links

Further reading

Balko, Radley, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces. Public Affairs, 2014.

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