Good News from Atlanta

A bipartisan bill looking to limit no-knock raids in Georgia is gaining momentum :

A group of lawmakers wants to make it harder for police to use "no-knock" warrants in the wake of a shootout that left an elderly woman dead after plainclothes officers stormed her home unannounced in a search for drugs.

The measure would allow judges to grant the warrants only if officers can prove a "significant and imminent danger to human life."

The measure was prompted by the Nov. 21 shootout between Kathryn Johnston and three police officers during a no-knock search of her Atlanta home. When the officers entered without warning, police say that Johnston, 92, fired a handgun at them and that the officers returned fire, killing her. An autopsy concluded she was shot five or six times.

I hate to be overly negative, but it's worth noting here that the problem is more about forced-entry raids in general, not just "no-knock" raids specifically. Though the officers involved in the Johnston raid did have a no-knock warrant, they still claim that they knocked and announced themselves before entering (though just about anything these cops say at this point is suspect).

For the people on the receiving end of these raids, the difference between a "no-knock" and a "knock-and-announce" is often negligible. The announcement has in many parts of the country become a mere formality. If you're asleep in an upstairs bedroom and the raid comes at 3am, even a faithful execution of the knock-and-announce requirement by the police isn't going to do you much good. It's the violent, forced-entry invasion of a private citizen's home that's the problem.

The limiting language in the bill is spot-on. "Significant and imminent danger to human life" sounds just about right. But if they want to prevent more Kathryn Johnstons, the bill needs to cover all forced-entry raids, not just no-knocks.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    I would like to see language in the bill that prohibits a confrontational entry unless it can be demonstrated that is the only way to arrest the alleged perpetrator and gather evidence.

    For example, if there is a crack-house in operation, and the police can show through surveillance that the place is never left unoccupied, then it would be reasonable to engage in a potentially confrontational entry. If, on the other hand police surveillance shows that every day at 0700 the occupants go off to work, or school, etc. then it is obviously unnecessary to kick their door down and enter their home in a rsiky manner.

  • jimmydageek||

    I agree, Wayne. There are usually many alternative ways of arresting people other than these forced entry raids. Only in severe cases should this method be used.

  • ||

    AOBP (Another Outstanding Balko Post)

    The measure would allow judges to grant the warrants only if officers can prove a "significant and imminent danger to human life."

    You mean that isn't the standard already? I agree, there should have to be some showing for any forced entry. Even with that language, I suspect that some BS SOP pretext would render it mere rubber-stamp formality in short order.

  • ||

    Even with that language, I suspect that some BS SOP pretext would render it mere rubber-stamp formality in short order.

    Bingo. The cops will just add some standard language to their request form, the same magistrates who issue these things based on one anonymous informant will rubber-stamp it, and it will be business-as-usual.

  • ||

    though just about anything these cops say at this point is suspect

    Would it be too cynical to suggest that anything any cop says is suspect?

  • ||

    ...to human life other than those of the invading officers... please.

  • ||

    Thank you for your excellent reporting on this, Radley!

    Appreciatively,
    VM

  • Kurt||

    If "Significant and imminent danger to human life" (i.e. hostage situtation) exists, then a warrant isn't required anyway.

  • ||

    The real question: what about significant and imminent danger to monkey officers?

    Yes, that's lifted from Radley's own site. If he's not going to link it here, I sure am.

  • Larry A||

    If you're asleep in an upstairs bedroom and the raid comes at 3am, even a faithful execution of the knock-and-announce requirement by the police isn't going to do you much good.

    The purpose of knock-and-announce is to warn the suspects that they are facing a legitimate police search so they won't resist. If you are going to give a warning, that warning will be most effective when the suspects are awake and able to understand it. Therefore it's counterproductive to wait until suspects are asleep to conduct a knock-and-announce warrant.

    Require that all warrants be served during normal waking hours, 7:00 AM to 10:00 PM, unless you can show that the suspects work on a different schedule.

  • daniel k||

    I am glad Reason has been agitating on this issue. I note that our vaunted "getting a warrant" system really seems to have little meaning, as well as the typical lack of accountabiilty to governmint agents (yes - including the judge). Is it even considered - a review of the judge approving the warrant? And heaven forbid, some accountability for what happended?

  • ||

    The measure would allow judges to grant the warrants only if officers can prove a "significant and imminent danger to human life."

    And while they're at it, they should pass a law saying that "no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

    Oh, wait...

  • ||

    If the cops busting down the door at a "suspected" drug house are met with reasonable home invasion defense such as high powered semi auto deer rifle fire and the first 2 or 3 in the door die I would expect them to rethink their no knock policy after losing a dozen or so officers. This is America and we really dont have to tolerate that bullying behaviour...We are allowed to protect our homes from unannounced break-ins

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement