The Court and the Castle Doctrine

The doctrine that “a man’s home is his castle” is reflected in the special protection that residences receive under the Fourth Amendment. But in recent decades, the Supreme Court has whittled away at the sanctity of the home by allowing increasingly aggressive police tactics. Huffington Post investigative reporter and former reason writer Radley Balko, whose book Rise of the Warrior Cop came out in July, cites three examples.

1 Ker v. California (1963): Justice Tom Clark’s majority opinion carved out gaping exceptions to the “knock and announce rule” that had a long history in U.S. law by upholding a search in which the police entered a home without knocking.

2 U.S. v. Banks (2003): The Court unanimously ruled that 15 to 20 seconds was a reasonable amount of time for police to wait between announcing their presence and forcing entry—a calculation based on how long it would take a guilty person to dispose of evidence. This logic upended the Castle Doctrine’s purpose, prioritizing the police perspective and assuming that suspects are guilty. 

3 Muehler v. Mena (2005): Police detained a handcuffed woman at gunpoint for three hours while officers ransacked her house. A tenant in her home was a suspect in a shooting, but she wasn’t, and it was rapidly clear that the suspect wasn’t around. Yet the justices unanimously ruled that the police actions were reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, illustrating the Court’s lack of interest in challenging violent police tactics. 

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