Richards v. Wisconsin (1997) is a hearing that was aimed at suppressing a lower court’s decision. It also sought to identify whether there was a blanket exception with regard to the knock-and-announce rule while searching in felony drug cases. In the case under consideration, the officers got into the plaintiff’s room without knocking or stating who they were. As the trial proceeded, the petitioner believed that it would be unconstitutional to use the evidence collected during the search due to the mentioned actions of the officers. The lower court had ruled against the plaintiff arguing that the police acted based on the reasonable cause; in particular, there were exigent circumstances. The Supreme Court upheld such a decision after examining all the facts. However, they found it unconstitutional to have a blanket rule against knock and announce for all felony drug investigations.
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The issue discussed in the paper refers to search and seizure. In this case, the Supreme Court needed to clarify whether there was a violation of the Fourth Amendment in reference to entry during search and seizure. Basically, they had to provide an answer to the question of whether there is a requirement for officers to knock and announce their presence before entering as they search for evidence during drug-related investigations.
The Rule of the Law Addressed
In some specific situations, the blanket exception can be permitted. In the analyzed case, the Supreme Court upheld the judgment as it was not necessary under the given circumstances. However, they added that it was unconstitutional to have a blanket exception to the rule of knocking and announcing when conducting drug felony investigations. It would be possible to apply the exception easily in other situations, for example, armed bank robbery investigations where the suspects could easily destroy the evidence of their crimes (Hemmens, Del, & Brody, 2010). All in all, the court decided that it was reasonable for the officers to act in the manner that they had done considering that the petitioner could have easily tampered with the evidence that could have hampered the investigations. When delivering the opinion of the court, Justice Stevens quoted the materials of the case Wilson v. Arkansas (1995) which indicate the importance of the knock and announce rule highlighting that it is necessary to follow at all times unless it is detrimental to the investigations process.
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The Analysis of the Legal Issue
As it has already been stated, Richards v. Wisconsin (1997) is the case that relates to the concept of knocking and announcing before entry during search and seizure. Speaking about the facts of the case, one should start by saying that police officers stationed in Madison, Wisconsin, acquired a permit to search the hotel room of Steiney Richards for illegal drugs and associated accouterments. The search had to be a culmination of all the investigations that the officers had been conducting with regard to the suspect. As required by law, the officers made an application to get a warrant prior to visiting the hotel. When making the application, they indicated that they needed to get inside without having to knock or even announce their presence. However, the magistrate did not include this provision into the warrant that they were given. The officers came to Richards’s room at 3.40 am with their leader dressed as a maintenance man, one of them was wearing a uniform and all the rest had plain clothes on. Officer Pharo knocked at the door saying he was a maintenance man, and Richards opened it but let the door chain remain intact. After realizing that there was a police officer behind Pharo, the petitioner closed the door abruptly.
The officers sat tight for a few seconds before slamming and kicking the door, and once they figured out how to break into the room, they got inside and saw that the petitioner was trying to escape through the window. While search, the policemen discovered money and cocaine in plastic bags over the roof tiles of the washroom. Richards tried to prove the court that the evidence was received in an illegal way as the officers had neglected to announce their presence before they forced their way into the room. The court did not support the plaintiff stating that the police workers had enough reasons to proceed as they did after considering their initial encounter with the petitioner. The court agreed that one could conclude from the behavior that the suspect could have destroyed the evidence or tried to escape. What is more, the judge also indicated that the drugs that the officers were hunting down could be disposed of with ease, and this was an extra reason for their choice to enter without declaring their presence. Scheb and Scheb II (2011) express the same opinion stating that there might be an exemption to the knock-and-announce rule in perilous situations and circumstances where evidence may be get rid of by the suspects.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court did not look at all the details of the capture of the petitioner; however, it acknowledged the fact that the police executed a court warrant on the night of December 31, 1991, in the plaintiff’s hotel room as they were looking for the illegal drugs. When making the final decision, the court contemplated on whether the verdict in Wilson v. Arkansas (1995) obliged them to renounce their decision in State v. Stevens (1994) that claimed that as officers act following the warrant to search for drugs and have a sensible cause to conduct it, one might believe that they have a right to enter without knocking. Finally, the court came to the conclusion that there was nothing in Wilson’s case decision that the knock-and-announce rule was a fundamental provision of the Fourth Amendment which would deny the possibility to apply a per se exemption to it in particular circumstances (Karagiozis & Sgaglio, 2005). When delivering their judgment, the judges thought that it was sensible to make the supposition that all drug-related cases were characterized by high danger of genuine if not deadly harm to the police and the possibility for the suspects to dispose of the drugs.
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Furthermore, the court considered the issue of privacy infringement as the plaintiff claimed that the police used force to enter when executing warrant without declaring their presence before that. They came to the conclusion that the infringement of one’s privacy with regard to the execution of search warrants occurs at the time of their issuance not while the actual execution (Bloom & Brodin, 2013). Similarly to Justice Stevens, Justice Abrahamson noticed that the activities of the petitioner, in particular, the fact that he closed the door when he saw the officer in the uniform proved that he definitely realized that the individuals were police officers.
Nonetheless, Justice Abrahamson did not agree with the across-the-board exemption to the knock-and-announce rule claiming that it was a matter of the court and not of the individuals who executed search warrants. She stated that the exception was overgeneralized because whereas there was often a risk for the officer and danger of losing the evidence in relation to a drug investigation, not all cases would pose the threat (Karagiozis & Sgaglio, 2005). She also underlined that other classes of crimes also included such risks, for example, investigation of a bank robbery. As such, she concluded that blanket rules could not serve as the ideal approach, and cited Maryland v. Buie (1990) and Terry v. Ohio (1960) cases that both acknowledge the risk to the police during searches, but indicate that it would always be necessary to knock and announce.
In conclusion, the court noted the general importance of following the conventional procedure of “knock and announce” when executing search warrants. The decision was made that in the conditions when the police were sure that declaring their presence and aims would be risky, useless, or could bring about the obliteration of evidence, it would be possible to enter without knocking. Speaking about Richards v. Wisconsin (1997) case, the Court stated that the fact that Richards closed the door after seeing the police justified the decision of the latter to break into the room. Another factor that influenced such a decision was the disposable nature of the substances that they were looking for.