No-knock warrants have been in the news recently in the wake of several high-profile cases. These warrants are controversial at best and can be downright dangerous for both the police executing them and the people in the homes. Police may enter the home with their guns drawn and startle the people inside. Many people wonder whether they are legal here in Wisconsin; for now, these warrants are legal. That said, many observers hope that law enforcement use them sparingly, given the dangers.
The Usual Rule Is Knock-and-Announce
Under usual circumstances, police must knock and announce their presence when they are executing a search warrant. They can ring a doorbell to let the residents know they are there, which is usually enough prior notice. In most cases, doing so allows police the ability to search for evidence without fear of it being destroyed first.
In Wisconsin, there is the rule of announcement that requires officers to do three things when executing a search warrant:
- Announce their identity
- Announce their purpose
- Wait for the occupants to refuse their admittance or allow them reasonable time to open the door
However, police often have a fear that people could destroy valuable evidence from the time that they knock until the time that they are let in to search the premises. Usually, this concern is most relevant in drug cases when the evidence could be easily disposed of in minutes.
No-Knock Warrants Are Legal in Wisconsin
No-knock warrants are legal in Wisconsin. In fact, the state was the location of the first case that made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court that legalized no-knock warrants. That said, police officers cannot just enter a home or hotel room on their own without knocking under all circumstances. They still need a special warrant validly issued by a judge. The court will not issue no-knock warrants under every circumstance. Instead, law enforcement will need to make a showing that knocking on the door and announcing their presence would get in the way of their investigation. A judge would have to specifically approve a no-knock warrant. A police officer cannot obtain a regular search warrant and then turn it into a no-knock warrant on their own.
Possible Defenses When a No-Knock Warrant Is Used
Suspects have a possible defense in their case if their Fourth Amendment rights have been violated. While the Supreme Court has held that a no-knock warrant is not unconstitutional on its own, it increases the chances that law enforcement committed a violation of your rights somewhere along the way.
If police officers acted illegally during their search of your home, you have several remedies:
- You can file a motion to exclude any evidence that was illegally seized as “fruit of the poisonous tree.”
- You can file a civil rights lawsuit against the police on the grounds that your constitutional rights were violated.
- You could file a lawsuit under Wisconsin state law for invasion of your privacy.
Determining whether a warrant was legal and legally executed is a legally complicated matter. For this reason, if you have been subjected to a no-knock warrant, you should be certain to have an attorney review your case.
No-Knock Warrants Are Not Always Legal
Just because officers can obtain a no-knock warrant does not mean that it is always legal. If the warrant is challenged in a subsequent lawsuit, the court will look very closely at the affidavit in search of the warrant to see if it justified a no-knock warrant. This type of search is viewed as a drastic measure, so it needs justification.
For example, in a 2001 case, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that a no-knock search was unreasonable when it said that the affidavit did not support a no-knock warrant. The evidence did not establish that the occupants of the home were a danger to police or that they would have impeded the investigation. While the court did not exclude the evidence seized for other reasons, it still established some outer limits on no-knock warrants.
No-Knock Warrants Have Been Used More Recently
The existence of legal no-knock warrants has led to a large surge in their use. Early on, only several thousands of these were used across the entire country each year. Now, there are tens of thousands of no-knock warrants annually. As the old saying goes, emergency powers tend to create emergencies. Officers try to justify these warrants by saying that their training and experience tell them that evidence could be destroyed. Often, courts treat the officer’s affidavit with great deference. The result is often not good for Wisconsin citizens.
In particular, no-knock warrants seem to be used more in Wisconsin than in other states. This puts Wisconsin residents at risk in their own homes, especially if they happened to be armed themselves. It also increases the dangers to law enforcement.
No-knock warrants have led to violent encounters between police and residents of the homes that put everyone at risk. In Wisconsin, a police officer lost his life in 2019 after being shot while executing a no-knock warrant. By now, most people have heard of the shooting of Briana Taylor, who was killed after police opened fire during a no-knock warrant.
As a result of incidents like these, there has been a push to prohibit no-knock warrants in Wisconsin and across the country, and there is currently a bill pending in the Wisconsin Legislature that would require officers to knock and identify themselves when executing a search warrant.
Contact an Appleton Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you have been subjected to a no-knock warrant, you need an attorney to review your case to determine whether the warrant was legal and if the police had a valid reason to seize evidence. Otherwise, you run the risk of having illegally obtained evidence being the basis for your conviction. Schedule a free case evaluation with an Appleton criminal defense attorney at Hogan Eickhoff by calling (920) 450-9800 or contacting us online. When it comes to your constitutional rights, you cannot delay.