The Tennessee state senate has unanimously passed legislation banning no-knock warrants. This makes sense. When police burst into a home without first knocking and presenting a warrant, residents often think a violent intruder is breaking into their home. As a result, they may get their gun or resist, resulting in innocent people being shot by the police. The only time police should be able to enter a home without knocking and presenting a warrant is when there’s an immediate threat to life and limb.
Right now, judges routinely rubberstamp police requests for no-knock warrants, without really scrutinizing whether they have a lawful basis. Such a warrant was obtained by the cops who shot Louisville resident Breonna Taylor to death in her home in March 2020. Legal commentators have said the warrant used to break into her home was illegal.
Police who entered Taylor’s home were reportedly investigating two men they believed to be selling drugs out of a house far from her house, according to the Louisville Courier Journal. They used a battering ram to break down her door and shot Taylor at least eight times after her boyfriend fired his gun at an officer in self-defense. No drugs were found in Taylor’s home.
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Sen. Rand Paul has also proposed legislation to ban no-knock warrants, which have resulted in other deaths and disabling injuries. “After talking with Breonna Taylor’s family, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s long past time to get rid of no-knock warrants. This bill will effectively end no-knock raids in the United States,” Paul said.
Paul’s bill, the “Justice for Breonna Taylor Act,” would prohibit federal law enforcement and local police that receive federal funding from entering homes without warning through a “no-knock” warrant.
The Supreme Court has said that no-knock warrants are permissible in a minority of cases, but not most. As it explained in Richards v. Wisconsin (1987):
In order to justify a “no-knock” entry, the police must 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 by, for example, allowing the destruction of evidence.
In practice, however, judges often just rubberstamp requests for no-knock warrants, flouting the Fourth Amendment.
Banning no-knock warrants would not place an undue burden on the police. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes, “No-knock warrants are illegal in Oregon and Florida” — and have been for years — “yet law enforcement has had no issues performing necessary operations in either state.” More recently, no-knock searches have been banned in a few other places, such as Virginia and Louisville, Kentucky.