No-Knock Warrants in California

Officers from the Minneapolis Police Department obtained a “no-knock” warrant to search Breonna Taylor’s apartment. It resulted in her death. An officer was shot and another officer shot at an apartment with small children. Some have reported that the officers were not wearing police identifiers on their clothing. They imply that Taylor’s boyfriend, who shot at officers, believed he was legally fighting off a home invader.

This had led to criticism of the practice of using no-knock warrants.

Why do no-knock warrants even exist? The purpose of no-knock warrants is to prevent the destruction of evidence. They are used to protect officers in situations where they reasonably believe that suspects will arm themselves. They are also used in situations where officers believe that that suspects will flee from arrest. (People v. Neer (1986) 177 Cal.App.3d 991, 995.) Under the Fourth Amendment, no-knock entries are justified when police officers have a reasonable suspicion that knocking and announcing their presence before entering would be dangerous or futile, or destructive to the purposes of the investigation. (U.S. v. Banks (2003) 540 U.S. 31, 36-37.) The Fourth Amendment even allows no-knock warrants when there is no existing exigency, but the officer expects that there will be exigency when a knock is made. With this many exceptions, you may wonder whether the Fourth Amendment even exists at all anymore.

But just because the Constitution allows no-knock warrants doesn’t mean that the states have to allow them. After all, in theory, the Constitution provides the floor for protection of constitutional rights, and states are free to be more protective if they want. That’s what California decided to do.

No-knock warrants are illegal in California.

Here, a magistrate may not issue a no-knock warrant. (Pen. Code, § 1531.) Although that wasn’t always the case. In 1872, 12% of all search warrants in Los Angeles County were no-knock warrants. (Parsley v. Superior Court (1973) 9 Cal.3d 934, 939-40). In Parsley, officers believed that there were drugs in a house, and obtained a no-knock warrant. (Id. at 938.) They had been told that the resident was known to answer the door armed with a weapon. (Id. at p. 941.) They crawled through a bedroom window without giving notice of their authority or purpose. They found narcotics and two men, who were both arrested. (Id.) The men complained that the officer shouldn’t have been allowed to crawl in, and they asked that the court throw out the drugs they found. The California Supreme Court agreed, relying on Penal Code section 1531. (Id. at p. 939.)

Don’t forget that officers can still enter your house without knocking if there is exigency existing when they arrive. (Parsley, supra, at p. 939.) It’s just that a judge can’t make that determination in advance: it has to be made by police on the scene.

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