The Supreme Court will resolve conflicting circuit court decisions regarding whether or not evidence is subject to suppression when seized by officials violating the Fourth Amendment “knock-and-announce” rule. If the evidence discovered through a knock-and-announce violation would have been discovered even if the violation had not occurred, then should the evidence be admissible?
According to the Fourth Amendment knock-and-announce rule, when police officers enter a person’s home, they must make their presence known to the occupants and wait a reasonable amount of time before entering. The courts are split as to whether a knock-and-announce violation makes evidence found after the violation excludable. Evidence which the officers would have inevitably discovered, however, is not normally excluded by courts. In Hudson v. Michigan (04-1360), Petitioner Hudson contends that the police’s knock-and-announce violation produced evidence resulting from an unreasonable entry under the Fourth Amendment and should, therefore, be suppressed. Respondent in this case, the state of Michigan, has two arguments at its disposal. First, they can argue that the police would have inevitably discovered the evidence regardless of the rule, and thus the evidence is not excludable because of the inevitable discovery doctrine exception. Second, they can argue that there is no causation between the entry violation and the seizure, meaning that the evidence is not the fruit of the Fourth Amendment violation and hence should not be excluded. Respondent further argues that excluding reliable evidence because of a mistake in the timing of entry would be unjustly harsh and produce an undue burden on society. The Supreme Court’s resolution of the current circuit court split will have powerful effects on law enforcement and the continued efficacy of the knock-and-announce rule.
Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties
Does the inevitable discovery doctrine create a per se exception to the exclusionary rule for evidence seized after a Fourth Amendment “knock and announce” violation, as the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and the Michigan Supreme Court have held, or is evidence subject to suppression after such violations, as the 6th and 8th Circuits, the Arkansas Supreme Court and the Maryland Court of Appeals have held?
On August 27, 1998, seven police officers went to Petitioner Booker T. Hudson’s (“Hudson”) Detroit, Michigan home to execute a search warrant. Hudson, Booker v. Michigan, 2005, Medill School of Journalism, at<http://docket.medill.northwestern.edu/archives/002753.php>. Before entering Hudson’s home, the officers announced their presence and, according to one of the officers present, waited three to five seconds before forcibly entering Hudson’s home. Hudson, Booker v. Michigan, 2005, Medill School of Journalism, at<http://docket.medill.northwestern.edu/archives/002753.php>. After entering and searching the house, the police officers found crack cocaine in bags on the chair on which Hudson had been sitting when the police officers entered, as well as five rocks of crack cocaine in Hudson’s pocket. Brief for the United States as Amicus Curiae Supporting Respondent at 1. The officers also found a loaded revolver between the cushion and the armrest of the chair. Id. The State of Michigan subsequently charged Hudson with possession of cocaine with intent to deliver and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. Id.
At trial in Michigan court, Petitioner motioned to suppress the evidence obtained during the search on the grounds that the officers had violated the knock-and-announce rule. Medill School of Journalism. The prosecutor conceded that the police had violated the knock-and-announce rule by waiting only three to five seconds before entering the home, which resulted in the trial judge ruling to suppress the evidence. Brief for the United States as Amicus Curiae Supporting Respondent at 2. However, this ruling was contrary to the Michigan Supreme Court’s recent rulings in People v. Stevens 597 N.W.2d 53 (Mich. 1999) and People v. Vasquez 602 N.W.2d 376 (Mich. 1999), which state that evidence need not be suppressed after a knock-and-announce violation if the evidence satisfied the inevitable discovery exception. Brief for Petitioner at 3. The Michigan appellate court overturned the trial court’s ruling to suppress the evidence on the strength of the Stevens and Vasquez cases and convicted the Petitioner of possession of the cocaine found in his pocket. Brief for Petitioner at 5. After a series of unsuccessful appeals in state court, (his case was confirmed in an unpublished memorandum opinion in the Michigan Court of Appeals and his application to appeal denied by Michigan Supreme Court) Petitioner brought his case to the United States Supreme Court. Brief for Petitioner at 5.
Background: The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Wilson v. Arkansas, 514 U.S. 927 (1995). Ten years ago, in Wilson v. Arkansas, 514 U.S. 927, the Court held that the knock-and-announce rule formed a part of the Fourth Amendment’s reasonableness inquiry. Id. The rule requires police to “knock and announce” themselves before entering a home. The typical penalty for a Fourth Amendment reasonableness violation is suppression of the evidence found as a result of the illegal entry. Id. Where the only violation of the Fourth Amendment is a knock-and-announce violation (there was no other violation such as failure to obtain a search warrant where necessary), the courts are split as to the standard to apply to determine if suppression is warranted; the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and the Michigan Supreme Court have held that the inevitable discovery doctrine creates a per se exception to the exclusionary rule for evidence seized after a Fourth Amendment “knock and announce” violation, whereas the 6th and 8th Circuits, the Arkansas Supreme Court and the Maryland Court of Appeals have held that suppression is possible.
At the crux of this dispute is the Michigan Supreme Court’s definition of the inevitable discovery doctrine. The inevitable discovery doctrine was first established in Nix v. Williams 467 U.S. 431 (1984), where the Court determined that the government should neither profit from illegal activity nor be “placed in a worse position than it would otherwise have occupied” absent the illegality. Brief for the United States as Amicus Curiae Supporting Respondent at 9, quoting (Nix v. Williams 467 U.S. 431 (1984)). The reasoning behind inevitable discovery is that it restores police to the same legal position they would have occupied if no police error or misconduct had occurred. In this case, the Michigan Supreme Court determined that this doctrine applied to except evidence from suppression because if the evidence seized after a knock-and-announce violation had been excluded, the exclusionwould have placed the prosecution in a worse position than if the police had acted lawfully. Brief for Petitioner at 7.
Petitioner’s Argument: Petitioner’s argument centers around a characterization of the evidence acquired after a knock-and-announce violation as the direct fruits of the illegal method of entry, meaning that any evidence acquired after such a violation would be subject to suppression under the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure. See Brief for Petitioner at 5. Under this characterization, the inevitable discovery doctrine is thus a purely exculpatory principle which prevents automatic suppression after a clear violation, rather than a per se exception to the exclusionary rule. See Brief for Petitioner at 18. Both precedent and the history and intent of the Fourth Amendment, Petitioner argues, point toward this characterization. See Brief for Petitioner at 5.
In Miller v. United States, 357 U.S. 301 (1958), the Court decided that since the petitioner was the subject of a knock-and-announce violation, “his arrest was unlawful,” and the evidence seized should have been suppressed; the implication of this precedent, Petitioner argues, is that knock-and-announce violations cast the entirety of the arrest as unlawful, hence the evidence gathered during the arrest were the direct fruits of the illegal method of entry. Brief for Petitioner at 10, quoting (Miller v. United States, 357 U.S. 301, 313-314 (1958)). Under this characterization, all proven knock-and-announce violations should result in suppression of the evidence seized, shifting the burden of proof to the prosecution to prove the applicability of exceptions such as the inevitable discovery doctrine. See Brief for Petitioner at 11.
Petitioner further contends that Millerdefined the primary purpose of the knock-and-announce rule as an affirmation of “the reverence of the law for the individual’s right of privacy in his house,” which is consistent with the idea that proven knock-and-announce violations should be punished to deter police misconduct, whether it be by suppression of the evidence or other civil or criminal remedies. Brief for Petitioner at 9, (quoting Miller v. United States, 357 U.S. 301, 313 (1958)). Criminal remedies against police misconduct, Petitioner argues, will not deter police from committing knock-and-announce violations because, as the Court stated in Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 651-652 & n.7 (1961), state statutes imposing criminal liability on officers, are “worthless and futile” in protecting citizens’ Fourth Amendmentrights because state prosecutors are unlikely to prosecute such cases. Brief for Petitioner at36,quoting (Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 651-652 & n.7 (1961)). Civil remedies are similarly useless, as there are few cases of this sort which have been successfully brought—the cases which do exist, however, have not resulted in more than a single dollar in compensation. See Brief for Petitioner at 37. Thus, the Petitioner argues that the only effective deterrent to knock-and-announce violations and the protection of the law’s reverence for individual privacy in the home is the application of the exclusionary rule.
Respondent’s Argument: Respondent’s main contention is that the evidence seized after a knock-and-announce violation is not causally related to the manner of entry, and hence, should be exempted from suppression on a per se basis, given that the knock-and-announce violation is the sole violation of the Fourth Amendment. In other words, Respondent argues that suppression is only appropriate if the excluded evidence has been seized as a result of illegal governmental activity, and in the case of pure knock-and-announce violations, there is no indication that the manner of entry has any causal relation to the seized evidence. Brief for Respondent at 2.
In support of its characterization, Respondent refers to the language in United States v. Crews, 445 U.S. 463 (1980), which states that suppression is appropriate only if “the challenged evidence is in some sense the product of illegal governmental activity.” Brief for the United States as Amicus Curiae Supporting Respondent at 8, quoting (United States v. Crews, 445 U.S. 463, 471 (1980) (emphasis added)). Respondent bolsters this precedental argument by reference to the test explicated in Wong Sun, 371 U.S. 471 (1963), which states that evidence is the “fruit” of a prior illegality when it was “come at by exploitation of (the initial) illegality or instead by means sufficiently distinguishable to be purged of the primary taint.” Id. at 8, quoting (Wong Sun, 371 U.S. 471 at 488 (1963)).
Respondent also appeals to the utility of a lenient or non-existent knock-and-announce rule. If, Respondent contends, the only function of allowing suppression following a knock-and-announce violation is to allow those inside time to destroy evidence or ready themselves to resist police officers, then the Fourth Amendment’sreasonableness test will only properly balance society’s interest in deterring illegal methods of entry with society’s interest in having juries receive all valid evidence of a crime if the exclusionary rule is exempted on a per se basis. See Brief for Respondentat 3; See Brief for the United States as Amicus Curiae Supporting Respondent at 9.
Respondent also disagrees with Petitioner’s contention that police officers will not have incentives to comply with the knock-and-announce rule under their per se “causation” standard. Brief for the United States as Amicus Curiae Supporting Respondent at 23. The “causation” argument, Respondent contends, still allows for suppression when the evidence seized is a “direct result” of the entry. Id. However, the best example of possibly excluded evidence cited by Respondent is an incriminating excited utterance caused by a police officer’s illegal entry, so it is probably best to take this assertion with a grain of salt. See Brief for the United States as Amicus Curiae Supporting Respondent at 4. This is not to say that Respondent is incorrect because perhaps civil or criminal sanctions would be effective.
Since many state and federal circuit courts are split on this issue, the Supreme Court’s decision will set binding precedent which will change the law in the dissenting courts below. Depending on the way the Court rules, this decision will likely result in a dramatic sea change in the conduct of law enforcement in affected jurisdictions.
If Petitioner wins his case, then the effect on law enforcement in areas where the inevitable discovery exception did not apply to violations of the knock-and-announce rule may be very significant. If police are no longer able to use evidence acquired after a knock-and-announce violation, then they are likely to be far more careful in their observance of the rule for fear of losing their ability to successfully prosecute a case. The newfound respect for the rule would likely protect the dignity and safety of citizens both by giving them a chance to allow the police to search peacefully and by more effectively alerting residents that the intruders are police and not criminals. This additional enforcement of the knock-and-announce rule might also have negative effects, however. If the police must allow a longer period of time to pass before entering a home, they may face an increased risk that criminals will take the additional time to dispose of evidence, or worse, that criminals will take the time to arm themselves and prepare to resist. Society may also be faced with bearing the burden of letting criminals who are clearly guilty go free if valid evidence is suppressed.
It should be noted, however, that Hudson is arguing for a rule of reasonable suppression in the event of a knock-and-announce violation, not a per se suppression—as such social costs may be mitigated when the totality of facts are considered in the Fourth Amendment’s reasonableness analysis. Thus the Court has the option of ruling that the inevitable discovery doctrine does not apply on a per se basis and that a reasonableness standard should apply, but that the totality of the facts weighs in favor of Respondent in this particular case. This would create a rule that, although not a per se exception, is fairly lenient toward knock-and-announce violations. This lenient rule could, in practical application, be similar to the per se application of inevitable discovery doctrine, but allowing judges to penalize law enforcement for egregious violations.
If the Court imposes a per se application of the inevitable discovery doctrine, (i.e. a rule whereby inevitable discovery is assumed unless it can be proven that the evidence would not have been found absent the violation), then the conduct of law enforcement in jurisdictions where the stricter rule of suppression currently applies will be greatly affected. With a per se inevitable discovery doctrine exception to evidence suppression rulings, police will be able to violate the knock-and-announce rule with near impunity. When suppression of evidence is at issue, even where police fail to knock-and-announce, they can always say that they would have inevitably discovered the evidence because they did in fact discover the evidence in the present case or else suppression wouldn’t be at issue. This is not to suggest that they will exercise this ability unprofessionally, but only that that could. It has long been recognized that alternative remedies (remedies that don’t require suppression) for search violations such as civil or criminal penalties, are “worthless and futile.” Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 651-652 & n.7 (1961). Therefore, if the Court approves a per se exception there will be little incentive to follow the knock-and-announce rule except in the unlikely case that the defense has a very strong case whereby it can prove the hypothetical that the improper entry itself caused the police to end up in a better position than they would have been in had the violation never occurred. Id.
This case will likely ultimately turn on the Supreme Court’s weighing of the policy pros and cons of the application of the exclusionary rule in knock-and-announce violation cases. If Respondent is successful in winning a per se exclusion for all pure knock-and-announce violations, then law enforcement will have the ability to violate the knock-and-announce rule with near impunity. If Petitioner is victorious, however, then a reasonableness balancing test will become the unified rule of the courts, resulting in stricter adherence to the knock-and-announce rule in law enforcement. In the post 9/11 world of heightened security measures, however, the courts may very well place their thumbs on the side of leniency toward more aggressive police measures, regardless of whether or not a reasonableness standard is ultimately adopted.Written by:
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