Fourth Amendment Search and Seizure

 United States v. Garcia-Hernandez, Lawyers Weekly No, 01-252-11

Issue: Whether evidence seized after possible violation of the knock and announce rule was subject to suppression.

Summary: In 2009, a confidential informant gave information to law enforcement, leading them to a massive drug-trafficking operation.  The informant told law enforcement that the individuals in the operation were expecting fifty-kilograms of cocaine on April 12.  The officers obtained a search warrant and the help of Kalantzis, the defendant’s girlfriend.  On the morning of April 12 the police spotted Kalantzis coming out of the apartment with a brief case and executed the search warrant at that time. The manner in which the authorities executed the warrant is of importance.  One officer drove an armored vehicle onto the lawn and parked in front of a picture window. Another breached the front door with a battering ram. Others detonated noise-flash devices, causing windows in the residence to shatter. The main body of searchers, several carrying assault rifles, stormed into the residence. The defendant was arrested and charged with several offenses.  The defendant moved to suppress the seized evidence on the ground that the search party had violated the knock-and-announce rule by failing to alert the occupants prior to forcing entry into the dwelling. 18 U.S.C. § 3109 He posited that the manner in which the officers executed the search warrant—in his words, a “military assault”—was so egregious as to demand exclusion of the evidence they found.   The court denied the motion and concluded that the officers’ failure to knock and announce their presence was not fatal because the execution of the warrant fell within an exception permitting a no-knock entry where notice of the imminent entry presents a great risk of danger or a likelihood that evidence would be destroyed.  The court also denied the motion on the basis that failure to follow the knock-and-announce rule does not provide for a remedy to the defendant. The defendant entered a conditional guilty plea, reserving a right to appeal the denied motion.

The court ruled that the knock-and-announce rule is not absolute and that there are certain circumstances that permit officers to execute a search

warrant without knocking and announcing their presence.  One of these exceptions is when the officers have reasonable suspicion that knocking and announcing their presence may result in destruction of evidence.  The court in this case, ruled that the evidence should not be suppressed even if it did violate the knock and announce rule because this is not a remedy to the problem.  Suppression of evidence, the court ruled, is always a last resort rather than a first impulse.

Implication: A violation of the knock-and-announce rule does not absolutely mean the evidence obtained from this conduct will be suppressed. Hudson v. Michigan is key precedent where the court held the exclusionary rule inapplicable to knock-and-announce violations. 547 U.S. 586 (2006).

–Wassem Amin

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