The Perils Of No-Knock Warrants To Innocents
No knock warrants—and the deadly consequences to innocents—are in the news yet again. Amir Locke, asleep on the couch in a Minnesota apartment, was killed as police stormed into the room on a no-knock warrant. While Locke did have a gun that he grabbed as he was startled awake, authorities confirm that his name was not on the warrant. His death, like that of Breonna Taylor, is another example of how modern policing makes it treacherous to sleep while Black in America.
No-knock warrants are typically used based on a confidential informant’s tips and are reserved for cases involving extreme danger—often drug or weapons cases. Officers believe the key selling point of no-knock warrants is the element of surprise. The hope is that no one inside will have an opportunity to arm themselves, destroy evidence, or escape, and officers can make a clean arrest and seize contraband. It must be emphasized that officers are entering situations believed to involve dangerous felons guilty of serious crimes and violent activity. Law enforcement obviously wants every advantage in such a situation.
The obvious problem with these warrants is the fact that innocent bystanders’ lives are put at risk. In one analysis conducted by the ACLU involving 818 reports, seven civilians were killed and 46 were injured. Extrapolate those numbers across 20,000 no-knock warrants that occur across the country in a single year, and the problem becomes pretty significant.
Even with eyewitnesses, even with the killing caught on videotape, it is exceptionally rare for officers to be charged with a crime after killing a civilian. That’s because use-of-force standards, though plentiful, are ultimately judged on an officer’s perception of the danger in the moment. They are justified in using lethal force if they are acting to save their own or another innocent person’s life, or when they are preventing a dangerous suspect from fleeing. Even when department policies are violated, it may not necessarily constitute a crime.
To be clear, whether an actual threat existed is beside the point. The legal standard is based on whether there is an “objectively reasonable” belief that there is a threat to life or a violent felon on the loose. That’s why we so often hear cases where police are exonerated after shooting someone who is reaching for a cell phone, but that the officer believes is a weapon in the heat of the moment.
So how are police to be kept safe in dangerous operations while at the same time innocents are protected? Nevada’s solution has been to tighten the rules related to no-knock warrants, forcing police to address the following:
- An explanation of the imminent danger to the public;
- Reasons the warrant cannot be addressed during daylight;
- Whether the suspect in question is known to be violent or to attempt escape;
- Whether there is a less intrusive manner to make the arrest.
Officers must undergo training in such operations, wear cameras when possible, and reevaluate the need for a no-knock entry on scene.
Do these extra rules eliminate the potential for injuries or deaths among innocent bystanders? You be the judge. At Lobo Law, our job is to pursue justice on behalf of our clients. Our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys are ready to go to bat for you. If you’ve been the victim of a no-knock warrant, or have any other concerns in the legal arena, contact our office for a confidential consultation.