U.S. vs. Banks ruling a major victory for law enforcement officers; Supreme Court endorsement of ‘no knock’ policies ‘unsettling,’ says expert

Christopher Bracey, an expert in the fields of American race relations and criminal procedure and an associate professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, closely followed the U.S. vs. Banks Supreme Court case. In addition to delivering lectures on a variety of topics involving race relations and criminal justice, including “Racial Profiling and the Post-September 11th Arab-American Experience,” Bracey has written numerous articles including “Thinking Race, Making Nation,” in winter 2003 edition of the Northwestern Law Review.

Christopher Bracey
Christopher Bracey

“The Court’s decision is a tremendous victory for law enforcement officers,” says Bracey. “The 9th Circuit decision, which was reversed by the Supreme Court, would have required officers to consider a multitude of factors when deciding how long to delay execution of a search warrant following the initial knock on the door. This multifactored analysis was not only cumbersome to administer as a practical matter, but it also failed to recognize the importance of certain exigent circumstances that would justify a shorter warning period.”

Bracey notes that the Supreme Court properly pointed out that, in the drug context, a suspect who kept drugs near toilets or drains could dispose of contraband in a relatively short period of time.

“It is this sort of constraint that justifies the use of forced entry following a 15 to 20 second waiting period after the initial knock and announcement,” says Bracey. “I think the Court was correct to endorse a ‘totality of circumstances’ approach to what is a reasonable delay period between knock and entry.”

According to Bracey, the only problematic portion of the opinion is the large exception that allows “no knock” forced entries by officers.

“‘No knock’ policies have been controversial for years in part because, historically, ‘no knock’ entries lead to increased claims of police brutality and unnecessary property damage,” says Bracey. “The Supreme Court’s unflinching endorsement of such policies and concomitant failure to acknowledge the damaging effect these policies have had on the lives of suspects who, more often than not, are poor and racial minorities, is somewhat unsettling.”