Lisa A. Mattern, Constitutional Law: Knock-And-Announce Violations and the Purposeful Enforcement of the Exclusionary Rule

59 Fla. L. Rev. 465 (2007) | | | |

TEXT :: Officers obtained a warrant to search for drugs and firearms in Petitioner’s home. Although the officers announced their presence, they waited only three to five seconds before entering the unlocked residence. Once inside, they discovered large quantities of drugs and a loaded firearm. Petitioner argued that the premature entry violated his Fourth Amendment rights, and he moved to suppress the evidence obtained in the search. The trial court granted his motion, but the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed, holding that even when the knock-and-announce rule is violated, suppression is unnecessary when the search is conducted pursuant to a valid warrant. Petitioner was then convicted of drug possession and appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction and the Michigan Supreme Court declined review. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari, and, in affirming the Michigan Court of Appeals’ decision, HELD that knock-and-announce violations do not trigger the exclusionary rule.

The Fourth Amendment, in relevant part, provides that “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” The Amendment does not state how courts should protect this right. However, in Weeks v. United States, the Court decided that evidence seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment could be excluded in a federal criminal trial. This exclusion deters police from violating the Fourth Amendment when gathering evidence. The Court later applied this exclusionary rule to the states as well. Since the Weeks decision, the Court has attempted to clarify the scope of the exclusionary rule.


In United States v. Leon, the Court considered whether the exclusionary rule should apply to evidence obtained when officers conduct a search in reasonable reliance on an ultimately invalid warrant. Although the search in this case violated the Fourth Amendment because of the invalid warrant, the Court held that the evidence obtained should not have been excluded. The Court found that whether a person’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated was a separate issue from whether to apply the exclusionary rule, a rule which imposes great social costs.

The Court found that these social costs should be balanced with the potential deterrence benefits, and that the exclusionary rule should apply only when its remedial objectives are best served. Applying this balancing test, the Court considered whether the connection between the police misconduct and the evidence obtained was so attenuated that applying the exclusionary rule would no longer serve the constitutional principles it was designed to protect. When such attenuation exists, trial courts may decline to apply the exclusionary rule.

In his concurring opinion, Justice Blackmun stressed the provisional nature of the exclusionary rule’s effect. He stated that the impact of exclusionary rule decisions will be tested by real-life police enforcement, and that these decisions may be revisited if needed. The scope of the rule, Justice Blackmun asserted, is thus always subject to change with judicial understanding of the rule’s effects.

Six years later, in New York v. Harris, the Court reiterated its conclusion in Leon that the exclusionary rule does not apply to everything that might deter illegal searches. In Harris, officers entered the respondent’s residence to make an arrest. The arresting officers, however, entered respondent’s home without consent and without a warrant, an established violation of the Fourth Amendment. After the illegal arrest, the respondent signed a written inculpatory statement at the police station. The statement was ruled admissible evidence, and respondent was convicted. The New York Court of Appeals reversed and ruled that the inculpatory statement should have been excluded as the fruit of an illegal search. The Court granted certiorari and reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision.

In reaching its decision, the Court considered the purpose of the rule against such entries. It found that the rule’s purpose was to protect the integrity of the home-not statements made to police outside the home. For example, if the police had collected evidence inside the house after their illegal entry, that evidence would have been excluded. However, the rule’s purpose of protecting the integrity of the home would not be served by excluding a statement made elsewhere. Therefore, the Court held that the exclusionary rule does not apply to a statement made outside a home after an illegal in-home arrest.

Five years after Harris, the Court decided another Fourth Amendment case, Wilson v. Arkansas. In Wilson, the Court dealt with the common-law knock-and- announce rule after officers with a warrant identified themselves as they entered an unlocked residence to search for drugs. The Court concluded that the knock-and-announce rule, which normally required officers to knock and announce their presence before entering the location of a search, formed part of the reasonableness standard of the Fourth Amendment. In reaching this decision, the Court considered the common-law justifications for the rule: protecting the home from destruction and preventing surprised residents from attacking officers. However, unlike the decisions in Leon and Harris, the Court in Wilson specifically declined to decide whether a knock-and-announce violation implicates the exclusionary rule.

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