Execution of Warrants

Execution of Warrants.—The Fourth Amendment's "general touchstone of reasonableness . . . governs the method of execution of the warrant."161 Until recently, however, most such issues have been dealt with by statute and rule.162 It was a rule at common law that before an officer could break and enter he must give notice of his office, authority, and purpose and must in effect be refused admittance,163 and until recently this has been a statutory requirement in the federal system164 and generally in the States. In Ker v. California,165 the Court considered the rule of announcement as a constitutional requirement, although a majority there found circumstances justifying entry without announcement. In Wilson v. Arkansas,166 the Court determined that the common law "knock and announce" rule is an element of the Fourth Amendment reasonableness inquiry. The rule is merely a presumption, however, that yields under various circumstances, including those posing a threat of physical violence to officers, those in which a prisoner has escaped and taken refuge in his dwelling, and those in which officers have reason to believe that destruction of evidence is likely. The test, articulated two years later in Richards v. Wisconsin,167 is whether police have "a reasonable suspicion that knocking and announcing their presence, under the particular circumstances, would be dangerous or futile, or that it would inhibit the effective investigation of the crime." In Richards, the Court held that there is no blanket exception to the rule whenever officers are executing a search warrant in a felony drug investigation; instead, a case-by-case analysis is required to determine whether no-knock entry is justified under the circumstances.168 Similarly, if officers choose to knock and announce before searching for drugs, circumstances may justify forced entry if there is not a prompt response.4 Recent federal laws providing for the issuance of warrants authorizing in certain circumstances "no-knock" entries to execute warrants will no doubt present the Court with opportunities to explore the configurations of the rule of announcement.169 A statute regulating the expiration of a warrant and issuance of another "should be liberally construed in favor of the individual."170 Similarly, inasmuch as the existence of probable cause must be established by fresh facts, so the execution of the warrant should be done in timely fashion so as to ensure so far as possible the continued existence of probable cause.171

161 United States v. Ramirez, 523 U.S. 65, 71 (1998).

162 Rule 41(c), Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, provides, inter alia, that the warrant shall command its execution in the daytime, unless the magistrate "for reasonable cause shown" directs in the warrant that it be served at some other time. See Jones v. United States, 357 U.S. 493, 498-500 (1958); Gooding v. United States, 416 U.S. 430 (1974). A separate statutory rule applies to narcotics cases. 21 U.S.C. § 879(a).

163 Semayne's Case, 5 Coke's Rep. 91a, 77 Eng. Rep. 194 (K.B. 1604).

164 18 U.S.C. § 3109. See Miller v. United States, 357 U.S. 301 (1958); Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471 (1963).

165 374 U.S. 23 (1963). Ker was an arrest warrant case, but no reason appears for differentiating search warrants. Eight Justices agreed that federal standards should govern and that the rule of announcement was of constitutional stature, but they divided 4-to-4 whether entry in this case had been pursuant to a valid exception. Justice Harlan who had dissented from the federal standards issue joined the four finding a justifiable exception to carry the result.

166 514 U.S. 927 (1995).

167 520 U.S. 385, 394 (1997).

168 The fact that officers may have to destroy property in order to conduct a no-knock entry has no bearing on the reasonableness of their decision not to knock and announce. United States v. Ramirez, 523 U.S. 65 (1998).

4 United States v. Banks, 540 U.S. 31 (2003) (forced entry was permissible after officers executing a warrant to search for drugs knocked, announced “police search warrant,” and waited 15-20 seconds with no response).

169 In narcotics cases, magistrates are authorized to issue "no-knock" warrants if they find there is probable cause to believe (1) the property sought may, and if notice is given, will be easily and quickly destroyed or (2) giving notice will endanger the life or safety of the executing officer or another person. 21 U.S.C. § 879(b). See also D.C. Code, § 23-591.

170 Sgro v. United States, 287 U.S. 206 (1932).

171 Id.

Because police actions in execution of a warrant must be related to the objectives of the authorized intrusion, and because privacy of the home lies at the core of the Fourth Amendment, police officers violate the Amendment by bringing members of the media or other third parties into a home during execution of a warrant if presence of those persons was not in aid of execution of the warrant.172 In executing a warrant for a search of premises and of named persons on the premises, police officers may not automatically search someone else found on the premises.173 If they can articulate some reasonable basis for fearing for their safety they may conduct a "patdown" of the person, but in order to search they must have probable cause particularized with respect to that person. However, in Michigan v. Summers,174 the Court held that officers arriving to execute a warrant for the search of a house could detain, without being required to articulate any reasonable basis and necessarily therefore without probable cause, the owner or occupant of the house, whom they encountered on the front porch leaving the premises. The Court determined that such a detention, which was "substantially less intrusive" than an arrest, was justified because of the law enforcement interests in minimizing the risk of harm to officers, facilitating entry and conduct of the search, and preventing flight in the event incriminating evidence is found.175 For the same reasons, officers may use “reasonable force,” including handcuffs, to effectuate a detention.5 Also, under some circumstances officers may search premises on the mistaken but reasonable belief that the premises are described in an otherwise valid warrant.176

172 Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603 (1999). Accord, Hanlon v. Berger, 526 U.S. 808 (1999) (media camera crew "ride-along" with Fish and Wildlife Service agents executing a warrant to search respondent's ranch for evidence of illegal taking of wild-life).

173 Ybarra v. Illinois, 444 U.S. 85 (1979) (patron in a bar), relying on and re-affirming United States v. Di Re, 332 U.S. 581 (1948) (occupant of vehicle may not be searched merely because there are grounds to search the automobile). But see Maryland v. Pringle, 540 U.S. 366 (2003) (distinguishing Ybarra on basis that passengers in car often have “common enterprise,” and noting that the tip in Di Re implicated only the driver).

174 452 U.S. 692 (1981).

175 Id. at 701-06. Ybarra was distinguished on the basis of its greater intrusiveness and the lack of sufficient connection with the premises. Id. at 695 n.4. By the time Summers was searched, police had probable cause to do so. Id. at 695. The warrant here was for contraband, id. at 701, and a different rule may apply with respect to warrants for other evidence. In Los Angeles County v. Rettele, 550 U.S. 609 (2007), the Court found no Fourth Amendment violation where deputies did not know that the suspects had sold the house that deputies had a warrant to search. The deputies entered the house and found the new owners, of a different race from the suspects, sleeping in the nude. The deputies held the new owners at gunpoint for one to two minutes without allowing them to dress or cover themselves. As for the difference in race, the Court noted that, “[w]hen the deputies ordered [Caucasian] respondents from their bed, they had no way of knowing whether the African-American suspects were elsewhere in the house.” Id. at 1992. As for not allowing the new owners to dress or cover themselves, the Court quoted its statement in Michigan v. Summers that “[t]he risk of harm to both the police and the occupants is minimized if the officers routinely exercise unquestioned command of the situation.” Id. at 1993 (quoting 452 U.S. at 702-03).

5 Muehler v. Mena, 544 U.S. 93, 98-99 (2005) (also upholding questioning the handcuffed detainee about her immigration status).

176 Maryland v. Garrison, 480 U.S. 79 (1987) (officers reasonably believed there was only one "third floor apartment" in city row house when in fact there were two).

Although for purposes of execution, as for many other matters, there is little difference between search warrants and arrest warrants, one notable difference is that the possession of a valid arrest warrant cannot authorize authorities to enter the home of a third party looking for the person named in the warrant; in order to do that, they need a search warrant signifying that a magistrate has determined that there is probable cause to believe the person named is on the premises.177

177 Steagald v. United States, 451 U.S. 204 (1981). An arrest warrant is a necessary and sufficient authority to enter a suspect's home to arrest him. Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573 (1980).

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