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Supreme Court Decision Update - Hudson v. Michigan

supreme2.jpgIn a case that actually means something to the world (or at least to criminal suspects who take a while to answer their door), the Supreme Court, in Hudson v. Michigan (PDF of the Opinion), took a big ole’ hunk out of the “knock and announce rule” today.

Quizlaw Analysis: For those of you narcotics traffickers (or even petty pot smokers) who have long thought that you had a few seconds after the police pounded on your door to dispose of your goods, think again! Sure, the knock and announce requirement is still required under the Fourth Amendment, but henceforth, y’all, the exclusionary rule will not apply to knock and announce violations, meaning that even if the police violate your k & a rights, those drugs can still be admitted into evidence.

Detroit police obtained a warrant authorizing them to search Booker Hudson’s premises for guns and drugs. When the police arrived to Hudson’s house, they announced their presence (without knocking) and waited only three to five seconds before barging in. Inside, they found a lot of cocaine and a loaded gun. Hudson was convicted and, on appeal, he argued that the seized evidence should have been suppressed because the police violated the knock and announce rule.

Here, the Supremes concede that Hudson’s k & a rights were violated. However, in a closely-contested 5-4 opinion drafted by Justice Scalia, the Court ruled that suppressing the evidence was simply too high a penalty to pay for violating one’s Fourth Amendment rights to a knock on the door. “Whether that preliminary misstep had occurred or not,” Scalia wrote, “the police would have executed the warrant they had obtained, and would have discovered the gun and drugs inside the house.” Suppressing the evidence, he further noted, would be tantamount “to a get-out-of-jail-free card.” While a violation of the warrant requirement would have led to a suppression, Scalia argued that there is very little deterrent effect to the knock and announce rule. “Ignoring knock-and-announce can realistically be expected to achieve absolutely nothing except the prevention of destruction of evidence and the avoidance of life-threatening resistance by occupants of the premises—dangers which, if there is even ‘reasonable suspicion’ of their existence, suspend the knock-and-announce requirement anyway.

Justice Kennedy wrote a separate opinion to concur in the majority’s conclusion, but iterated that the knock and announce rule is not something that should be taken lightly. He further noted that, while suppression of evidence is not necessary when such violations occur, civil lawsuits can still be brought against the police and that legislatures have a duty to ensure police officers “act competently and lawfully.”

The dissent, written by Justice Breyer and joined by the other three liberal justices, Stevens, Ginsburg, and Souter, argued that the exclusionary rule should apply to knock and announce violations. Breyer wrote that not only is the knock and announce rule historically important, but that there are only a very small number of exceptions to the exclusionary rule, none of which the k & a rule fits within. The majority’s decision “weakens, perhaps destroys, much of the practical value of the Constitution’s knock-and-announce protection,” Breyer wrote, noting that violation of the knock and announce rule will henceforth come with no consequences to the police. He further wrote, with some vehemence I might add, that “the Court should assure itself that any departure from [the exclusionary rule] is firmly grounded in logic, in history, in precedent, and in empirical fact.” Here, he concluded, the Court “has not done so.”