Richards v. Wisconsin (96-5955), 520 U.S. 385 (1997).
[ Stevens ]
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NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U.S. 321, 337.




certiorari to the supreme court of wisconsin

No. 96-5955. Argued March 24, 1997 -- Decided April 28, 1997

In Wilson v. Arkansas, 514 U.S. 927, this Court held that the Fourth Amendment incorporates the common law requirement that police knock on a dwelling's door and announce their identity and purpose before attempting forcible entry, recognized that the flexible reasonableness requirement should not be read to mandate a rigid announcement rule that ignores countervailing law enforcement interests, id., at 934, and left it to the lower courts to determine the circumstances under which an unannounced entry is reasonable. Id., at 936. Officers in Madison, Wisconsin obtained a warrant to search petitioner Richards' hotel room for drugs and related paraphernalia, but the magistrate refused to give advance authorization for a "no knock" entry. The officer who knocked on Richards' door was dressed, and identified himself, as a maintenance man. Upon opening the door, Richards also saw a uniformed officer and quickly closed the door. The officers kicked down the door, caught Richards trying to escape, and found cash and cocaine in the bathroom. In denying Richards' motion to suppress the evidence on the ground that the officers did not knock and announce their presence before forcing entry, the trial court found that they could gather from Richards' strange behavior that he might try to destroy evidence or escape and that the drugs' disposable nature further justified their decision not to knock and announce. The State Supreme Court affirmed, concluding that Wilson did not preclude the court's pre-Wilson per se rule that police officers are never required to knock and announce when executing a search warrant in a felony drug investigation because of the special circumstances of today's drug culture.


1. The Fourth Amendment does not permit a blanket exception to the knock and announce requirement for felony drug investigations. While the requirement can give way under circumstances presenting a threat of physical violence or where officers believe that evidence would be destroyed if advance notice were given, 514 U. S., at 936, the fact that felony drug investigations may frequently present such circumstances 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. Creating exceptions to the requirement based on the culture surrounding a general category of criminal behavior presents at least two serious concerns. First, the exception contains considerable overgeneralization that would impermissibly insulate from judicial review cases in which a drug investigation does not pose special risks. Second, creating an exception in one category can, relatively easily, be applied to others. If a per se exception were allowed for each criminal activity category that included a considerable risk of danger to officers or destruction of evidence, the knock and announce requirement would be meaningless. The court confronted with the question in each case has a duty to determine whether the facts and circumstances of the particular entry justified dispensing with the requirement. A "no knock" entry is justified when the police have a reasonable suspicion that knocking and announcing their presence, under the particular circumstances, would be dangerous or futile, or that it would inhibit the effective investigation of the crime. This standard strikes the appropriate balance between the legitimate law enforcement concerns at issue in the execution of search warrants and the individual privacy interests affected by no knock entries. Cf. Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325, 337. Pp. 5-9.

2. Because the evidence in this case establishes that the decision not to knock and announce was a reasonable one under the circumstances, the officers' entry into the hotel room did not violate the Fourth Amendment. That the magistrate had originally refused to issue a no knock warrant means only that at the time the warrant was requested there was insufficient evidence for a no knock entry. However, the officers' decision to enter the room must be evaluated as of the time of entry. Pp. 9-11.

201 Wis. 2d 845, 549 N. W. 2d 218, affirmed.

Stevens, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.