514 U.S. 927 (1995), 94-5707, Wilson v. Arkansas

Docket Nº:No. 94-5707
Citation:514 U.S. 927, 115 S.Ct. 1914, 131 L.Ed.2d 976, 63 U.S.L.W. 4456
Party Name:WILSON v. ARKANSAS
Case Date:May 22, 1995
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 927

514 U.S. 927 (1995)

115 S.Ct. 1914, 131 L.Ed.2d 976, 63 U.S.L.W. 4456

WILSON

v.

ARKANSAS

No. 94-5707

United States Supreme Court

May 22, 1995

Argued March 28, 1995

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF ARKANSAS

Syllabus

Petitioner was convicted on state-law drug charges after the Arkansas trial court denied her evidence-suppression motion, in which she asserted that the search of her home was invalid because, inter alia, the police had violated the common-law principle requiring them to announce their presence and authority before entering. The State Supreme Court affirmed, rejecting petitioner's argument that the common-law "knock and announce" principle is required by the Fourth Amendment.

Held:

The common-law knock and announce principle forms a part of the Fourth Amendment reasonableness inquiry. Pp. 931-937.

(a) An officer's unannounced entry into a home might, in some circumstances, be unreasonable under the Amendment. In evaluating the scope of the constitutional right to be secure in one's house, this Court has looked to the traditional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures afforded by the common law at the time of the framing. Given the longstanding common-law endorsement of the practice of announcement, and the wealth of founding-era commentaries, constitutional provisions, statutes, and cases espousing or supporting the knock and announce principle, this Court has little doubt that the Amendment's Framers thought that whether officers announced their presence and authority before entering a dwelling was among the factors to be considered in assessing a search's reasonableness. Nevertheless, the common-law principle was never stated as an inflexible rule requiring announcement under all circumstances. Countervailing law enforcement interests—including, e.g. , the threat of physical harm to police, the fact that an officer is pursuing a recently escaped arrestee, and the existence of reason to believe that evidence would likely be destroyed if advance notice were given—may establish the reasonableness of an unannounced entry. For now, this Court leaves to the lower courts the task of determining such relevant countervailing factors. Pp. 934-936.

(b) Respondent's asserted reasons for affirming the judgment below—that the police reasonably believed that a prior announcement would have placed them in peril and would have produced an unreasonable risk that petitioner would destroy easily disposable narcotics evidence—may well provide the necessary justification for the unannounced entry in this case. The case is remanded to allow the state

Page 928

courts to make the reasonableness determination in the first instance. P. 937.

317 Ark. 548, 878 S.W.2d 755, reversed and remanded.

Thomas, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

John Wesley Hall, Jr., argued the cause and filed briefs for petitioner.

Winston Bryant, Attorney General of Arkansas, argued the cause for respondent. With him on the briefs were Kent G. Holt, Vada Berger, and David R. Raupp, Assistant Attorneys General, and Andrew D. Leipold.

Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging affirmance. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Days, Assistant Attorney General Harris, Paul A. Engelmayer, and Deborah Watson.[*]

Page 929

Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court.

At the time of the framing, the common law of search and seizure recognized a law enforcement officer's authority to break open the doors of a dwelling, but generally indicated that he first ought to announce his presence and authority. In this case, we hold that this common-law "knock and announce" principle forms a part of the reasonableness inquiry under the Fourth Amendment.

I

During November and December 1992, petitioner Sharlene Wilson made a series of narcotics sales to an informant acting at the direction of the Arkansas State Police. In late November, the informant purchased marijuana and methamphetamine at the home that petitioner shared with Bryson Jacobs. On December 30, the informant telephoned petitioner at her home and arranged to meet her at a local store to buy some marijuana. According to testimony presented below, petitioner produced a semiautomatic pistol at this meeting and waved it in the informant's face, threatening to kill her if she turned out to be working for the police. Petitioner then sold the informant a bag of marijuana.

The next day, police officers applied for and obtained warrants to search petitioner's home and to arrest both petitioner and Jacobs. Affidavits filed in support of the warrants set forth the details of the narcotics transactions and stated that Jacobs had previously been convicted of arson and firebombing. The search was conducted later that afternoon. Police officers found the main door to petitioner's home open. While opening an unlocked screen door and entering the residence, they identified themselves as police officers and stated that they had a warrant. Once inside the home, the officers seized marijuana, methamphetamine, valium, narcotics paraphernalia, a gun, and ammunition. They also found petitioner in the bathroom, flushing marijuana down the toilet. Petitioner and Jacobs were arrested and

Page 930

charged with delivery of marijuana, delivery of methamphetamine, possession of drug paraphernalia, and possession of marijuana.

Before trial, petitioner filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized during the search. Petitioner asserted that the search was invalid on various grounds, including that the officers had failed to "knock and announce" before entering her home. The trial court summarily denied the suppression motion. After a jury trial, petitioner was convicted of all charges and sentenced to 32 years in prison.

The Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed petitioner's conviction on appeal...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP