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Cops or Robbers? The SC Supreme Court's Moratorium on No-Knock Warrants Should be Permanent

Earlier this month, the South Carolina Supreme Court issued a moratorium on no-knock warrants - it's temporary, however, until South Carolina's judges receive additional training on when they are allowed to issue no-knock warrants under US Supreme Court precedent.

Although they are constitutional under certain circumstances, SC's moratorium on no-knock warrants should be permanent, not temporary. No amount of training is going to fix the problems with no-knock warrants and, except in the most extreme - and rare - situations, they are abhorrent to a free society where a person's home is supposed to be their castle.

SC Orders a Moratorium on No-Knock Warrants

The Chief Justice of the SC Supreme Court signed an Order earlier this month temporarily prohibiting the use of no-knock warrants in our state.

Why?

Because magistrates are issuing no-knock warrants "routinely" upon request by law enforcement, and SC magistrates "do not understand the gravity of no-knock warrants" or "the heightened requirements for issuing a no-knock warrant:"

Magistrates issue the majority of search warrants in South Carolina. A recent survey of magistrates revealed that most do not understand the gravity of no-knock warrants and do not discern the heightened requirements for issuing a no-knock warrant. It further appears that no-knock search warrants are routinely issued upon request without further inquiry. In recognition of the dangers that the execution of no-knock warrants present to law enforcement and members of the public, and in order to ensure that these warrants are issued based upon the proper constitutional and statutory criteria,

I FIND
it necessary to address the issuance of no-knock search warrants by circuit and summary court judges statewide.

SC's moratorium on no-knock warrants is only temporary, however, and the Order says that it will "remain in effect until instruction is provided to circuit and summary court judges statewide as to the criteria to be used to determine whether a requested no-knock warrant should be issued:"

Pursuant to Article V, Section 4 of the South Carolina Constitution,

IT IS ORDERED that a moratorium upon the issuance of no-knock warrants by all circuit and summary court judges of this state take effect immediately and remain in effect until instruction is provided to circuit and summary court judges statewide as to the criteria to be used to determine whether a requested no-knock warrant should be issued. This instruction will be provided by the South Carolina Judicial Branch.

The provisions of this order are effective immediately and remain in effect unless amended or revoked by subsequent order of the Chief Justice.

What is a no-knock warrant, and why should SC's moratorium on no-knock warrants be made permanent?

Why the Moratorium on No-Knock Warrants Should Be Made Permanent

The US Supreme Court has held that, although they are permitted to break into a person's home to arrest, search, or serve process on that person, the Fourth Amendment requires police to knock and announce themselves before they break the door down.

In another case, the US Supreme Court also held that there is no blanket exception to the "knock and announce rule" for drug cases.

Before a judge issues a no-knock warrant, police must show that there is an individualizedreasonable suspicion that the person whose house they want to break into is likely to be violent or destroy evidence:

Thus, the fact that felony drug investigations may frequently present circumstances warranting a no-knock entry cannot remove from the neutral scrutiny of a reviewing court the reasonableness of the police decision not to knock and announce in a particular case. Instead, in each case, it is the duty of a court confronted with the question to determine whether the facts and circumstances of the particular entry justified dispensing with the knock-and-announce requirement.

Why?

Because your home is your castle. When, in the middle of the night, someone kicks your door in and enters your home with a gun, you have the right to shoot and kill the intruder.

Sending a SWAT team to kick in doors and practice their urban warfare skills might make sense if they are taking down a cartel, or another criminal organization or individual who is known for extreme violence against law enforcement officers. Itdoes not make sense if police are executing a search warrant on a run of the mill drug dealer's house or to arrest someone for a $100 marijuana sale, especially considering how often police get it wrong and come up empty-handed...

If a criminal dressed in army fatigues kicks in your door at 3 a.m. and points a gun at you, you have the right to grab your weapon and fight for your life.

If a police officer dressed in army fatigues kicks in your door at 3 a.m. without identifying themselves and points a gun at you, if you grab your gun and shoot them you may be on trial for your life, charged with capital murder...

A License to Kill

The penalty for selling or using drugs is not death.

And yet, when police are permitted to break a person's door down without identifying themselves, the magistrate signing the warrant is effectively giving them permission to kill any person in the home.

When the homeowner, or their mother, father, aunt, uncle, brother, sister, or roommate, not knowing that it is law enforcement executing a warrant, grabs a weapon to defend themselves, the police will kill them.

And they know that there will be no consequences - over and over, police shoot and kill, maim, paralyze, beat, and arrest the occupants of houses they entered without knocking, sometimes the wrong houses, and they do so with impunity.

Don't believe me?

There are more. Many more... The list above includes examples of homeowners who were killed in raids on the wrong homes, an infant who was nearly killed by a flash grenade, innocent people who were killed by police, and police officers who were unnecessarily killed because they didn't identify themselves.

All are tragedies.

What they have in common is that 1) when a police officer is shot or wounded after breaking into someone's home unannounced, the homeowner is charged with a crime, sometimes capital murder, and 2) when an innocent homeowner is shot or wounded by police officers, the police face no consequences other than the possibility of a civil lawsuit (where, in many cases, they will be shielded by qualified immunity).

The SC Supreme Court needs to rethink whether we should allow police in our state to kick in citizen's doors without knocking or announcing who they are - for the protection of SC's citizens and the protection of SC's law enforcement officers.

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If you have been charged with a crime in SC, callnow at (843) 916-9300 or email us online to speak with a Myrtle Beach criminal defense lawyer on the Axelrod team today.

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