View Full Version : Evidence Of Change

06-20-2006, 01:31 PM
Evidence of change
Last week's Supreme Court ruling hints at an assault on privacy rights.


By Times editorial
Published June 20, 2006

Last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hudson vs. Michigan doesn't seem all that unreasonable on its face. In a 5-to-4 ruling, the court held that when police officers fail to properly identify themselves but enter a house with a valid warrant, the evidence seized can be used against the accused at trial. The troubling part is the prospect that four members of the court may be laying the legal groundwork for a broader assault on the exclusionary rule - a rule that has been vital to protecting the privacy rights of Americans.

In this case, the police officers had a lawful warrant to search the Detroit home of Booker Hudson. They announced their presence but did not knock. Then they entered the house after waiting between three and five seconds, instead of the 15 to 20 seconds required under the exclusionary rule. They found drugs and a gun. Michigan conceded that the Detroit police officers had violated the "knock and announce" rule. The only issue before the court was what remedy would be available for the violation.

Typically when there is an unconstitutional entry or search, the evidence obtained is excluded from trial. This exclusionary rule has been around since 1914 and was a practical court-ordered solution to a stubborn problem. Until that time, police were routinely entering homes illegally and ignoring warrant requirements, despite the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court specifically found that internal administrative penalties, the threat of a lawsuit and even the potential for prosecution, did not deter police from ignoring privacy rights. The exclusionary rule has accomplished what those other remedies could not. In the decades since its establishment, and particularly since the rule was applied to state police agencies in 1961, the professionalism of policing has advanced remarkably.

While it is true that sometimes a guilty person has been allowed to go free because the evidence against him was wrongly obtained, the greater goals of safeguarding the Constitution's privacy guarantees and elevating policing standards have been largely realized.

In their ruling Thursday, Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts seem to be signaling a retrenchment. In an opinion authored by Scalia, he acknowledged that the police in Michigan had illegally entered Hudson's residence, but held the remedy would not be the suppression of the evidence. Scalia said the social costs would be too high, since dangerous criminals could be freed and too many defendants would be encouraged to claim police violated the rules. (That argument could be made against almost any application of the exclusionary rule.) Instead, Scalia said, Hudson could bring a civil lawsuit.

But suing police is expensive and time-consuming. Moreover, police are granted a partial immunity from lawsuits. It is just not realistic, as the dissenting justices pointed out.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court's new swing vote now that Sandra Day O'Connor has retired, joined most of Scalia's opinion but wrote separately to make it clear that he was solidly in support of the exclusionary rule when the search itself and not the entry alone was unconstitutionally conducted. Kennedy was obviously concerned with how far his conservative colleagues are prepared to go in undermining the foundation of the exclusionary rule. So should all Americans.

06-20-2006, 05:01 PM
If I were a police officer, I would be very concerned about how I entered that home, especially if had some idea of what might be in there.

The only sane method I can think of is to stay behind a shield and call the people in the home out with a telephone or a bullhorn. The strategy could perhaps build from this first step …

Anyway, this would seem to be a step towards entering homes completely unannounced.

I wonder what the USA Constitution has to say about this.