June 15, 2006

Court: evidence allowed despite police violation

By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled
on Thursday that evidence can be used even if the police
violated the rule requiring them to knock on the door and
announce their presence before entering to search a suspect's

By a 5-4 vote, the justices upheld a Michigan court ruling
that the officers' failure to knock did not disqualify evidence
seized under a valid search warrant.

The ruling was the latest in a series by the court's
conservative majority to expand police powers to conduct
searches and seize evidence.

The court's newest member, conservative Justice Samuel
Alito, who was appointed by President George W. Bush,
apparently cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the police.

Liberal justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth
Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer dissented.

"Today's opinion is thus doubly troubling. It represents a
significant departure from the court's precedents. And it
weakens, perhaps destroys, much of the practical value of the
Constitution's knock-and-announce protection," Breyer wrote.

In the 1998 case, seven Detroit police officers executed a
search warrant for drugs and weapons at Booker Hudson's house.
They shouted, "police, search warrant," but did not knock on
the door. After waiting only three to five seconds, they
entered the house.

The police found five rocks of crack cocaine in his pants
pocket and plastic bags in the house that contained cocaine.
They also founded a loaded revolver in a chair.

Hudson was charged with possession of cocaine and a
firearm. He was convicted on the drug charge, acquitted on the
firearm charge and was sentenced to 18 months of probation.

Hudson moved to suppress the evidence because the police
had violated the constitutional knock-and-announce requirement.

In 1995, the Supreme Court ruled that police officers
executing a search warrant generally must knock and announce
their presence before entering a house.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the court majority in that
the evidence should not be suppressed. He said the illegal
entry was too attenuated to justify excluding the evidence.

He said the knock-and-announce rule has never been
interpreted to prevent the government from seeking or taking
evidence described in a valid warrant.

Scalia warned that excluding incriminating evidence would
have various social costs, generating a flood of lawsuits
claiming violations, causing police officers to refrain from
making a timely entry and resulting in the possible destruction
of evidence.

He said any police misconduct can be deterred by civil
rights suits. He also cited the increasing professionalism of
police forces, including a new emphasis on internal police

Besides Alito, the court's other conservatives -- Chief
Justice John Roberts, who also was appointed by Bush, and
Justice Clarence Thomas -- joined the ruling, along with
Justice Anthony Kennedy, a moderate-conservative.