Richards v. Wisconsin, 520 U.S. 385 (1997)

2012-08-24 14:54:49

The Fourth Amendment protects individuals against unreasonable searches and seizures. Courts have struggled, however, to determine what makes searches and seizures ‘‘unreasonable’’. An important case addressing this issue is Richards v. Wisconsin, where the Court rejected Wisconsin’s blanket exception in drug searches to the requirement that police officers knock and announce their presence before forcibly entering a home.

Two years before Richards, the Court decided in Wilson v. Arkansas (1995) that the Fourth Amendment requires police to knock and identify themselves before executing search warrants. However, the Court added that ‘‘no-knock’’ entries may be justified by factual circumstances in some cases, leaving it to lower courts to determine when such entries were justified. Wisconsin responded by mandating blanket approvals of ‘‘no-knock’’ entries in drug cases.

In Richards, officers executing a search warrant forcibly entered Richards’ hotel room without knocking and announcing their presence. Richards was arrested when officers found cocaine in the bathroom. The trial court denied Richards’ motion to suppress the evidence because of the ‘‘no-knock’’ entry and the Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed.

The Supreme Court held, however, that no-knock entries must be justified on a case-by-case basis. Only when police believe announcing their presence may be dangerous, futile, or result in the destruction of evidence, are ‘‘no-knock’’ entries justified. Although the Court rejected Wisconsin’s blanket exception to the knock and announce rule, it upheld Richards’ conviction, stating that particular ‘‘no-knock’’ entry did not violate the Fourth Amendment.


References and Further Reading

  • Biskupic, Joan. ‘‘High Court Limits Brutality Liability.’’ Washington Post, April 29, 1997, p. A1.
  • Greenhouse, Linda. ‘‘Court Rejects Special Rules for Drug Searches.’’ New York Times, April 29, 1997, p. A14.
  • Memorandum for M. Edward Whelan III, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel, from Cynthia R. Ryan, Chief Counsel, Drug Enforcement Administration. Re: Authority of Federal Judges to Issue ‘‘No-Knock.’’ Warrants, October 26, 2001.
  • ‘‘Opinions of the U.S. Supreme Court.’’ Criminal Law Reporter 61, no. 5 (April 30, 1997).

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Wilson v. Arkansas, 514 U.S. 927 (1995)

See also Privacy; Search (General Definition)