Do Drug Offenders Have the Right to Home Protection?

Two Georgia men are asking the Georgia Supreme Court to prevent prosecutors from seeking the death penalty against them. Two years ago, the two fired on police as they conducted a 1 am no-knock drug raid on the group house where the men lived. They say they thought they were being robbed, perhaps by rival drug dealers.

There's no question there was drug activity going on in the home. But other witnesses present for the raid say they had no idea the raiding officers were police. There also seem to be some problems with the warrant, which relied on two confidential informants, one of whom was later deemed unreliable by a state judge. In the months after the raid, the prosecutor initially tried to charge everyone in the house with murder, including one man who lived at the house but wasn't present at the time of the raid.

These guys obviously aren't poster children for the problems with no-knock raids. Let's put aside the question of whether or not they deserve the death penalty. The case also illustrates the point that these raids make things less safe for police, too. It's hard to believe even most drug dealers would knowingly take on a team of raiding police, unless they have a death wish. Drug penalties are severe, but knowingly killing a police officer is almost certain death, either at the scene or once the criminal justice system is through with you.  Deadly force to prevent a rival dealer from stealing your supply? I can see that.  Deadly force against a raiding police force?  Seems far less likely.

Dep. Joseph Whitehead may well still be alive today had he and his fellow officers found a less volatile and confrontational way of serving their warrant.

The outcome certainly couldn't have been much worse.

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.

  • Taktix®||

    Good thing Dep. Whitehead didn't take his kids along for this one...

  • Heinrick||

    "Do Drug Offenders Have the Right to Home Protection?"

    No

  • Elemenope||

    Heinrick, why not?

  • ||

    Hell, if they don't have fourth amendment rights, why would anyone think they have the right of home protection.

    Get with the program.

  • ||

    Do Drug Offenders Have the Right to

    That's as far as I read but I am gonna go out on a huge limb and say the courts will rule "No, they don't"

  • TallDave||

    It's sort of sad that neither party can admit this whole problem could be solved by eliminating the laws that make drug trafficking so profitable and simultaneously unregulatable.

    We created conditions that ensured the most violent and ruthless drug dealers would best prosper, and then we're shocked at the natural result.

    I'm especially disappointed in the GOP. They're supposed to understand market distortions. It's too bad the mindless so-cons have hijacked it.

  • Choir Leader||

    Deadly force to prevent a rival dealer from stealing your supply?



    Well, if there was no WoD in the first place, etc. etc. ...

  • TallDave||

    Hell, if they don't have fourth amendment rights

    Yeah, that's the core problem. How the hell did we lose the right to decide what can ingest?

  • Choir Leader||

    Beaten by TallDave. Not my fault, I was in police custody...

  • ||

    The case also illustrates the point that these raids make things less safe for police, too. It's hard to believe even most drug dealers would knowingly take on a team of raiding police, unless they have a death wish. Drug penalties are severe, but knowingly killing a police officer is almost certain death, either at the scene or once the criminal justice system is through with you.

    When arguing about the inanity of no knock raids, this is a point that may convince some otherwise unreasonable people.

  • ||

    Radley Balko,

    Drug penalties are severe, but knowingly killing a police officer is almost certain death, either at the scene or once the criminal justice system is through with you. Deadly force to prevent a rival dealer from stealing your supply? I can see that. Deadly force against a raiding police force? Seems far less likely.

    Criminals routinely react to police in ways which are guaranteed to worsen their fate. For example, why would any rational person ever resist arrest or engage in a protracted car chase? The odds of improving their situation by doing so is minimal and yet criminals engage in such self-defeating behavior routinely.

    Criminals are not rational actors calmly weighing the benefits and risks of their actions. As a group they are impulsive and self-destructive. Drug use exacerbates this problem.

    If a cop calmly knocks on the door to non-violently warrant, some meth head whose been tweaking for 3 days straight will think that shooting the officers is a perfectly rational strategy.

    Part of the drive towards these lightening no-knock raids comes from cops tired of burying their colleagues after a seemingly low risk situation turned fatal after a suspect did something incredibly stupid.

    If I have one criticism of your stellar work on this matter it is the apparent lack of any input from the perspective of law enforcement. You might consider investigating their rationales for employing these dangerous tactics.

  • ||

    If you want to wage war on U.S. Citizens, you've got to expect some casualties.

    What laws of war apply in this case?

    Are all enemy combatants to be executed because they defend themselves?

    I know, the lawyers don't buy this argument of war. But if you really want a WAR, don't concern yourself with body counts. All is fair in love and War.

    Just ask John Walters.

  • Taktix®||

    Part of the drive towards these lightening no-knock raids comes from cops tired of burying their colleagues after a seemingly low risk situation turned fatal after a suspect did something incredibly stupid.

    So why don't they wait until said meth-head comes out of the house, then ambush him/her with non-lethal means? I mean, they have to leave the house at some point, even of it's only to get more meth.

  • Paul||

    Mmmyeah... here's the problem I see with this particular case. When you're conducting an illegal operation in your home, and you shoot at anyone who might be trying to invade such illegal operation, it's hard to foster much sympathy. It seems to me that if you truly are conducting said illegal operation, then you might reasobly expect an invasion by law enforcement personnel. Therefore making the blanket claim "Hey! I didn't know they were police," is the kind of...well, a get out of jail free card, if you will. Of course they're going to claim that.

    It's a tough and very narrow line, I'll admit. It certainly does, however, raise (again) the question of the need for no knock raids. See Taktik's comment above.

  • ||

    Part of the drive towards these lightening no-knock raids comes from cops tired of burying their colleagues after a seemingly low risk situation turned fatal after a suspect did something incredibly stupid.
    Well if the protection of the cop's well being is the most important consideration, lets just call in an air strike.

  • Zeb||

    Meth is the Nazi/Hitler of drug policy debates.

  • Paul||

    Erik Atkinson:

    from cops tired of burying their colleagues after a seemingly low risk situation turned fatal after a suspect did something incredibly stupid.

    I agree. The alternative now is civilians are now burying their colleagues after the cops do something incredibly stupid.

  • ||

    Zeb,
    How reply to this

  • ||

    um...
    you said:
    Drug penalties are severe, but knowingly killing a police officer is almost certain death, either at the scene or once the criminal justice system is through with you.

    This statement is only true if you actually get the death penalty for killing police-if Radley has his way, and they do not get the DP, then killing police no longer results in a death sentence, since every criminal in a similar circumstance would then claim that they didn't know they were police.
    Just thought I'd point out a logical fallacy.

  • ||

    We should be careful not to fall for the availability fallacy i.e. the tendency to subscribe scale and significance to a phenomenon based on its media visibility or dramatic appeal.

    We don't actually know whether on the whole no-knock warrants cost more lives than they save. We rebel against the idea of innocent or confused people being held accountable for killing an officer in a circumstance designed by the police to disorient and confuse them. However, that doesn't in and off itself not mean that ending the use of the tactic would save lives and increase justice.

    I find the often evinced idea on these threads that police are all a bunch of muscle bound jerk who put no thought into their tactics highly suspect.

    Life's never that easy.

  • Observant Bystander||

    "The case also illustrates the point that these raids make things less safe for police, too."

    I accept that these tactics make things less safe for suspects, but if they also make things less safe for the police (as compared to the available alternatives), then why do the police continue to use these tactics?

    Is your view that the police are almost uniformly miscalculating the risks? Is this plausible?

    Is it instead that the police don't care that these tactics are less safe for them because they perceive some other benefit(s) from using higher-risk tactics? What would these benefits be? It could be that the police find membership on these tactical teams more prestigious when they involve greater risks. Greater risks may also be used to justify the military outfits and the urban tanks, which then increase the perceived prestige of being on these teams even more. I don't know.

    But if you really think these tactics are less safe even for the police, then we need to find some explanation for why they continue.

    Maybe you have offered or suggested an explanation elsewhere (maybe in your Cato report), and I just haven't seen it. If so, then I may be denounced by (some) commenters for missing it. If the denouncement includes a link to the explanation, however, it will be worth it.

  • Taktix®||

    We don't actually know whether on the whole no-knock warrants cost more lives than they save.

    Not relevant, because this implies that someone must apply a value to a life in order to weigh it against another life.

    Worse still, that someone would be a law enforcement officer who is biased and to some extent trained to be biased.

  • ||

    Take out the words drugs and meth lab and put alcohol and bootleg operation.in their place.It's a fact murder rates dropped by a huge margin after the end of prohibition.Does anyone think people would be cooking in their house if a steady,regulated drug market was in place?Very few people use meth ,the carnage is a result of unwise laws.Most drug busts are for pot,a rather harmless substance in and of its self.The danger comes frome the illegal trade.

  • ||

    "Dep. Joseph Whitehead _may_ well still be alive today had he and his fellow officers found a less volatile and confrontational way of serving their warrant."
    "Might", not "may", is the English past conditional; "may" is a present conditional. The substitution of "may" seems to come from sports reporting hypotheticals.
    Otherwise, a splendid post.

  • ||

    I think Shannon Love's comments are some of the more reasonable things that have been said here. Let's not get so caught up in our self-righteousness that we fail to even consider the other points of view...

  • NeonCat||

    @ jamie

    There is the supposition that the police will be shot executing no-knock warrants, therefore the person shooting the cops will not know they are shooting at police. If there are not no-knock warrants, then the person shooting will know they are shooting at police.

    @ others
    I think part of the reason that cops do no-knock raids is that some (but not all) of them are adrenaline junkies. Surely busting into someone's home knowing there could be heavily armed people on the other side waiting to shoot you would get you high if that were the case. So, the answer would be, (some) cops do no-knock because they like the effects.

    I also agree with Zeb re:meth/Hitler.

  • ||

    I find the often evinced idea on these threads that police are all a bunch of muscle bound jerk who put no thought into their tactics highly suspect.

    As the initiators of these tactics, doesn't the LEO community bear the burden of proving their necissity?

    Do you have a problem with "mostly a bunch of muscle bound jerks" vice all?

  • the innominate one||

    Part of the drive towards these lightening no-knock raids comes from cops tired of burying their colleagues after a seemingly low risk situation turned fatal after a suspect did something incredibly stupid.

    Being a cop is risky. If you don't want to assume that level of risk, don't become a cop.

    Cops' tiredness of their fellow LEOs funerals does not give them the right to abrogate our rights or put their tactics beyond questioning.

  • OIF||

    Well if the protection of the cop's well being is the most important consideration, lets just call in an air strike

    It's the logic we use.

  • ||

    Life's never that easy.

    To a cop, it is that easy. Arguments of scale aside, they'd much rather not have to bother respecting your rights at all. In their eyes, they are right and the suspect is wrong, and the Bill of Rights is a speed bump on the way to incarceration and conviction.

    Go ask a hundred cops why they became cops. See how many answer, "to protect the rights of the accused".

    We don't actually know whether on the whole no-knock warrants cost more lives than they save.

    Do we know that no-knock warrants actually save lives?

    The practice runs headlong into the castle doctrine, and I'm inclined to believe that said doctrine is of a higher priority to society than the expedience of a no-knock warrant.

  • ||

    However, that doesn't in and off itself not mean that ending the use of the tactic would save lives and increase justice.

    I generally find Shannon to be one of the more thoughty posters here, but this one has me baffled.

    In my mind, kicking down someone's door in order to serve a warrant or make an arrest for a victimless/consensual crime (like playing poker or having/selling drugs) cannot ever result in justice. Period. Simply because arresting/punishing people for victimless/consensual crimes is inherently unjust. It may be the law, but that doesn't mean its just.

    As for saving lives by kicking down doors, I really don't think the doors are being kicked down because cops were getting shot while serving warrants in a civilized manner. They are being kicked down to prevent the perps from flushing evidence. So I don't buy the safety argument either - no-knock raids are a more-dangerous tactic, with the additional risk accepted as the price of gathering evidence.

  • Dave W.||

    By the way, I think the legal answer is that they do have the right to self-defense, in pretty much every state, if: (i) they are genuinely in fear of their lives; (ii) they are reasonably in fear of their lives; and (iii) there is no resonable way to retreat. In some states, even less justification is necessary.

    As a legal matter, I don't think it even matters if they know that it is police (although most tribunals would assume that police won't shoot you if you surrender, thereby negating element (ii) above in most cases).

    As a legal matter, the drugs are irrelevant.

    The problem here isn't the law, but rather the judges and juries who decide what the true facts are.

  • fyodor||

    I seem to remember being fed the line as a youth in the 60's/70's that no-knock raids were done to keep those sneaky drug addicts from having the chance to flush all the evidence away. Don't know if that's as likely/possible with meth labs...

  • ||

    Well if the protection of the cop's well being is the most important consideration, lets just call in an air strike

    Don't even joke about it. It has been done.

  • LarryA||

    If a cop calmly knocks on the door to non-violently warrant, some meth head whose been tweaking for 3 days straight will think that shooting the officers is a perfectly rational strategy.

    Any actual examples of this? With links?

    Part of the drive towards these lightening no-knock raids comes from cops tired of burying their colleagues after a seemingly low risk situation turned fatal after a suspect did something incredibly stupid.

    I remember when these sudden-entry raids started. The single reason was that suspects were flushing evidence.

    "Hey! I didn't know they were police," is the kind of...well, a get out of jail free card, if you will. Of course they're going to claim that.

    It's a lot harder to claim such if there are marked cars surrounding the premises with lights flashing, or the cops actually ID themselves with loudspeakers, or call the person inside on the phone, or hit the place with spotlights, or conduct the raid in daylight, or...

    We have the technology.

    We don't actually know whether on the whole no-knock warrants cost more lives than they save.

    We do know with certainty that the drug laws cost more lives than they save. By several orders of magnitude.

    As for SWAT raids, throwing half-a-dozen adrenaline-pumped cops feeling invulnerable in their body armor armed with submachineguns into a dark house with their vision impaired by masks and the smoke from the flash-bang and whatever it ignited where neither interior nor exterior walls will stop a bullet is an exceedingly dangerous situation even without a perpetrator. Some of those officers fell to "friendly" fire.

  • William Kostric||

    It looks the cops ran into the first amendment while violating the fourth. That's the way it's supposed to work.

    If people can't wake up and see why it's immoral to trespass and destroy someones property, kidnap and lock them in a cage for growing a plant in their backyard then perhaps a body count is what's required for change.

    I personally feel zero sympathy for those cops. I reserve my sympathy for the victims of the nonsense they initiate.

  • windycityatty||

    Usually, most states require that the application for a no-knock warrant cite sufficient exigent circumstances to justify a breach of the "knock and announce" requirement. So what do cops do? They make up the exigent circumstances to get no-knock warrants - - just like they make up shit to get normal "knock and announce" warrants.

    Usually, a few lines regarding "suspects known to have weapons" (or previous weapons convictions), "security cameras" "destruction of evidence" bla bla bla - - - another day, another lie, and another dead body. I agree with the poster above - its a fucking war. The government declared war and is unhappy with the aftermath. It cannot be a "war on drugs" as that is a non-sensical phrase. It is and only can be a war on people. People with lots of guns. What the fuck did they think would happen kicking down someone's door at 1 am. Or 6 am or whatever. Hard core drug dealers who have valuable commodities (whether cash or drugs) in their homes sleep with guns under their pillow or at a minimum within reaching distance. Shoot first ask questions later is a policy shared by both the raiders and the raidees. Can't really blame the latter group as the situation is forced upon them unannounced and unexpected. The raiders, on the other hand, they have options. There is a huge difference.

    Of course, it sucks that people die for such a stupid reason. And every dead cop is another poster boy for increased penalties and another ratcheting up of the drug war. I am reminded again and again of Einstein's theory of insanity. Repeating the same shit over and over but expecting a different result.

  • safely protect||

    Its great to see such a blog where there is some important information posted and the way number of comments posted by the readers. I like the interactive comments posted by the readers.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

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

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement