Friday, June 6, 2014

"War on Drugs" & "Make Everything Legal" Is Not a Binary Choice

As I pointed out several years ago, there is a legitimate place for no-knock warrants -- but those circumstances are extraordinarily rare.  I pointed to a case where a no-knock warrant was used to look for a heroin trafficker -- who had not lived at this address for at least a year:
Now, if this was a national security matter, with concern that the people inside might set off a bomb, or there was reason to fear that serving the warrant in a civilized manner might get someone killed, fine. But this is a heroin distribution charge, and even if there was reason for a no-knock warrant based on the dangerousness of the person being arrested, you need to be extra careful to make sure that you are at the right address, and that the person you are trying to arrest still lives there.
And there is this ugly case where a no-knock warrant was served (at the wrong address, 2F, 2R, what's the difference?) with a chainsaw.  The traditional arguments for no-knock warrants are:

1. Someone inside is going to open fire as soon as we knock and announce.

2. The evidence we seek will be flushed.

3. There is a hostage that will be killed while we wait for the door to be opened.

The first case is certainly plausible, but police also need to look for ways to make arrests when the suspect isn't inside.  And even then, judges should be very demanding of proof that the address is right, and that the suspect is indeed dangerous.

The second case is certainly plausible -- but if the quantity of drugs is this small, why put so many people at risk?  Most of the time, no-knock warrants involve big quantities.

The third case is pretty darn rare, and can certainly make sense -- but again, are there even ten such cases a year in the whole country?  I doubt it.

It is possible to enforce drug laws without armored vehicles, SWAT teams, and (most of the time) no-knock warrants.  It just may not be easy.  So what?

1 comment:

Alcibiades said...

Very clever people might have evidence set up to auto-destruct if someone opens a safe, door, or dresser in the wrong way. Average criminals don't care, but big time drug dealers or fraudsters (who'd want to destroy a paper trail) might do it. I suppose undercover work could help mitigate the risk of destruction of evidence.