United States v. Banks, 540 U.S. 31 (2003)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

No. 02-473. Argued October 15, 2003—Decided December 2, 2003

When federal and local law enforcement officers went to respondent

Banks's apartment to execute a warrant to search for cocaine, they called out "police search warrant" and rapped on the front door hard enough to be heard by officers at the back door, waited for 15 to 20 seconds with no response, and then broke open the door. Banks was in the shower and testified that he heard nothing until the crash of the door. The District Court denied his motion to suppress the drugs and weapons found during the search, rejecting his argument that the officers waited an unreasonably short time before forcing entry in violation of both the Fourth Amendment and 18 U. S. C. 3109. Banks pleaded guilty, but reserved his right to challenge the search on appeal. In reversing and ordering the evidence suppressed, the Ninth Circuit found, using a four-part scheme for vetting knock-and-announce entries, that the instant entry had no exigent circumstances, making forced entry by destruction of property permissible only if there was an explicit refusal of admittance or a time lapse greater than the one here.

Held: 1. The officers' 15-to-20-second wait before forcible entry satisfied the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 35-43. (a) The standards bearing on whether officers can legitimately enter after knocking are the same as those for requiring or dispensing with knock and announce altogether. This Court has fleshed out the notion of reasonable execution on a case-by-case basis, but has pointed out factual considerations of unusual, albeit not dispositive, significance. The obligation to knock and announce before entering gives way when officers have reasonable grounds to expect futility or to suspect that an exigency, such as evidence destruction, will arise instantly upon knocking. Richards v. Wisconsin, 520 U. S. 385, 394. Since most people keep their doors locked, a no-knock entry will normally do some damage, a fact too common to require a heightened justification when a reasonable suspicion of exigency already justifies an unwarned entry. United States v. Ramirez, 523 U. S. 65, 70-71. Pp. 35-37. (b) This case turns on the exigency revealed by the circumstances known to the officers after they knocked and announced, which the Government contends was the risk of losing easily disposable evidence.


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