Richards v. Wisconsin

Citation137 L.Ed.2d 615,520 U.S. 385,117 S.Ct. 1416
Decision Date28 April 1997
Docket Number965955
PartiesSteiney RICHARDS, Petitioner, v. WISCONSIN
CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Syllabus *

In Wilson v. Arkansas, 514 U.S. 927, 115 S.Ct. 1914, 131 L.Ed.2d 976, this Court held that the Fourth Amendment incorporates the common-law requirement that police knock on a dwelling's door and announce their identity and purpose before attempting forcible entry, recognized that the flexible reasonableness requirement should not be read to mandate a rigid announcement rule that ignores countervailing law enforcement interests, id., at 934, 115 S.Ct., at ----, and left it to the lower courts to determine the circumstances under which an unannounced entry is reasonable. Id., at 936, 115 S.Ct., at ----. Officers in Madison, Wisconsin obtained a warrant to search petitioner Richards' hotel room for drugs and related paraphernalia, but the magistrate refused to give advance authorization for a "no-knock'' entry. The officer who knocked on Richards' door was dressed, and identified himself, as a maintenance man. Upon opening the door, Richards also saw a uniformed officer and quickly closed the door. The officers kicked down the door, caught Richards trying to escape, and found cash and cocaine in the bathroom. In denying Richards' motion to suppress the evidence on the ground that the officers did not knock and announce their presence before forcing entry, the trial court found that they could gather from Richards' strange behavior that he might try to destroy evidence or escape and that the drugs' disposable nature further justified their decision not to knock and announce. The State Supreme Court affirmed, concluding that Wilson did not preclude the court's pre-Wilson per se rule that police officers are never required to knock and announce when executing a search warrant in a felony drug investigation because of the special circumstances of today's drug culture.

Held: 1. The Fourth Amendment does not permit a blanket exception to the knock-and-announce requirement for felony drug investigations. While the requirement can give way under circumstances presenting a threat of physical violence or where officers believe that evidence would be destroyed if advance notice were given, 514 U.S., at 936, 115 S.Ct., at ----, the fact that felony drug investigations may frequently present such circumstances cannot remove from the neutral scrutiny of a reviewing court the reasonableness of the police decision not to knock and announce in a particular case. Creating exceptions to the requirement based on the culture surrounding a general category of criminal behavior presents at least two serious concerns. First, the exception contains considerable overgeneralization that would impermissibly insulate from judicial review cases in which a drug investigation does not pose special risks. Second, creating an exception in one category can, relatively easily, be applied to others. If a per se exception were allowed for each criminal activity category that included a considerable risk of danger to officers or destruction of evidence, the knock-and-announce requirement would be meaningless. The court confronted with the question in each case has a duty to determine whether the facts and circumstances of the particular entry justified dispensing with the requirement. A "no-knock'' entry is justified when the police have a reasonable suspicion that knocking and announcing their presence, under the particular circumstances, would be dangerous or futile, or that it would inhibit the effective investigation of the crime. This standard strikes the appropriate balance between the legitimate law enforcement concerns at issue in the execution of search warrants and the individual privacy interests affected by no-knock entries. Cf. Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325, 337, 110 S.Ct. 1093, 1099-1100, 108 L.Ed.2d 276. Pp. ____-____.

2. Because the evidence in this case establishes that the decision not to knock and announce was a reasonable one under the circumstances, the officers' entry into the hotel room did not violate the Fourth Amendment. That the magistrate had originally refused to issue a no-knock warrant means only that at the time the warrant was requested there was insufficient evidence for a no-knock entry. However, the officers' decision to enter the room must be evaluated as of the time of entry. Pp. ____-____.

201 Wis.2d 839, 549 N.W.2d 218, affirmed.

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

David R. Karpe, Madison, WI, appointed by this Court, for petitioner.

James E. Doyle, Madison, WI, for respondent.

Miguel A. Estrada, Washington, DC, for U.S. as amicus curiae, by special leave of the Court.

Justice STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

In Wilson v. Arkansas, 514 U.S. 927, 115 S.Ct. 1914, 131 L.Ed.2d 976 (1995), we held that the Fourth Amendment incorporates the commonlaw requirement that police officers entering a dwelling must knock on the door and announce their identity and purpose before attempting forcible entry. At the same time, we recognized that the "flexible requirement of reasonableness should not be read to mandate a rigid rule of announcement that ignores countervailing law enforcement interests,'' id., at 934, 115 S.Ct., at 1918, and left "to the lower courts the task of determining the circumstances under which an unannounced entry is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.'' Id., 936, 115 S.Ct., at 1919.

In this case, the Wisconsin Supreme Court concluded that police officers are never required to knock and announce their presence when executing a search warrant in a felony drug investigation. In so doing, it reaffirmed a pre-Wilson holding and concluded that Wilson did not preclude this per se rule. We disagree with the court's conclusion that the Fourth Amendment permits a blanket exception to the knock-and-announce requirement for this entire category of criminal activity. But because the evidence presented to support the officers' actions in this case establishes that the decision not to knock and announce was a reasonable one under the circumstances, we affirm the judgment of the Wisconsin court.

I

On December 31, 1991, police officers in Madison, Wisconsin obtained a warrant to search Steiney Richards' hotel room for drugs and related paraphernalia. The search warrant was the culmination of an investigation that had uncovered substantial evidence that Richards was one of several individuals dealing drugs out of hotel rooms in Madison. The police requested a warrant that would have given advance authorization for a "no-knock'' entry into the hotel room, but the magistrate explicitly deleted those portions of the warrant. App. 7, 9.

The officers arrived at the hotel room at 3:40 a.m. Officer Pharo, dressed as a maintenance man, led the team. With him were several plainclothes officers and at least one man in uniform. Officer Pharo knocked on Richards' door and, responding to the query from inside the room, stated that he was a maintenance man. With the chain still on the door, Richards cracked it open. Although there is some dispute as to what occurred next, Richards acknowledges that when he opened the door he saw the man in uniform standing behind Officer Pharo. Brief for Petitioner 6. He quickly slammed the door closed and, after waiting two or three seconds, the officers began kicking and ramming the door to gain entry to the locked room. At trial, the officers testified that they identified themselves as police while they were kicking the door in. App. 40. When they finally did break into the room, the officers caught Richards trying to escape through the window. They also found cash and cocaine hidden in plastic bags above the bathroom ceiling tiles.

Richards sought to have the evidence from his hotel room suppressed on the ground that the officers had failed to knock and announce their presence prior to forcing entry into the room. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that the officers could gather from Richards' strange behavior when they first sought entry that he knew they were police officers and that he might try to destroy evidence or to escape. Id., at 54. The judge emphasized that the easily disposable nature of the drugs the police were searching for further justified their decision to identify themselves as they crossed the threshold instead of announcing their presence before seeking entry. Id., at 55. Richards appealed the decision to the Wisconsin Supreme Court and that court affirmed. 201 Wis.2d 839, 549 N.W.2d 218 (1996).

The Wisconsin Supreme Court did not delve into the events underlying Richards' arrest in any detail, but accepted the following facts: " [O]n December 31, 1991, police executed a search warrant for the motel room of the defendant seeking evidence of the felonious crime of Possession with Intent to Deliver a Controlled Substance in violation of Wis. Stat. §161.41(1m) (1991-92). They did not knock and announce prior to their entry. Drugs were seized.'' Id., at 849, 549 N.W.2d, at 220.

Assuming these facts, the court proceeded to consider whether our decision in Wilson required the court to abandon its decision in State v. Stevens, 181 Wis.2d 410, 511 N.W.2d 591 (1994), cert. denied, 515 U.S. 1102, 115 S.Ct. 2245, 132 L.Ed.2d 254 (1995), which held that "when the police have a search warrant, supported by probable cause, to search a residence for evidence of delivery of drugs or evidence of possession with intent to deliver drugs, they necessarily have reasonable cause to believe exigent circumstances exist'' to justify a no-knock entry. 201 Wis.2d, at 852, 549 N.W.2d, at 221. The court concluded that nothing in Wilson's acknowledgment that the knock-and-announce rule was an element of the Fourth Amendment "reasonableness'' requirement would prohibit application of a per se exception to that rule in a category of cases. 201 Wis.2d,...

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