HB 56 Hopes to Regulate No-Knock Warrants

The police practice of executing no knock search warrants came under criticism last year with the botched case of 18 month old Bou Bou Phonesavanh. Officers executing the warrant late in the evening had hoped to find drugs or weapons, but they found neither, nor did they locate a drug dealer. Upon entering the house, the officers deployed a flash bang grenade in order to distract the home’s occupants. The grenade landed in a crib holding the baby and exploded, injuring Bou Bou, which led to expensive medical treatment that the family could ill afford.

At present in Georgia, the use of no-knock warrants is lightly regulated, if at all. In order to receive a search warrant, an officer must go before a judge and swear an oath explaining the probable cause for needing the warrant. And in practice, officers can request that they can execute the warrant without knocking on the door and identifying themselves first. While meant to be used sparingly, judges in some jurisdictions reportedly issue no-knock warrants up to 80% of the time.

To address this issue, Dawsonville Republican Rep. Kevin Tanner wrote House Bill 56 in order to codify the use of no knock warrants and provide a method of monitoring their use. The bill specifically defines a no knock warrant, and sets up several conditions that must be satisfied before one can be issued. Under the bill, in order for a judge to issue a no knock warrant to an officer, the warrant request would have to have been reviewed by that officer’s supervising officer, who then must accompany the first officer in the warrant’s execution. Except for good cause, the no knock warrant must be executed between 6 AM and 10 PM, and the applying officer must testify that knocking and announcing the police presence would cause an imminent danger to life or the destruction of evidence.

In addition, any law enforcement agency that uses no knock warrants must develop written policies for their use that can be examined by the general public. The bill also requires each judge who issues any type of search warrant to produce a monthly report detailing the number of warrants issued and the number of no knock warrants requested and executed.

Rep. Tanner’s bill is designed to bring some regulation and transparency to the practice of issuing no-knock warrants. Yet, there is a vocal group that stands in opposition to the proposed legislation. Much of their opposition stems from the belief that no knock warrants are currently illegal in Georgia, and that the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches, which they contend includes no knock warrants.

And indeed, Georgia Code Section 17-5-27 plainly states that an officer executing a search warrant can force entry “after verbal notice or an attempt in good faith to give verbal notice by the officer.” The reason that Georgia judges routinely issue no knock search warrants is that numerous courts up to and including the U.S. Supreme Court have issued judicial opinions that no knock warrants do not violate the fourth amendment, and in fact can be issued if a judge approves.

Another concern is that by formally legalizing no knock warrants, the officers executing them will be immune to penalties should things go wrong as they did in the Bou Bou case, or in the case of Kathryn Johnston, an Atlanta resident who was killed during the execution of a no knock warrant at the wrong house. That’s not true, according to Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter. The actions of officers during the execution of a warrant, with or without the no knock provision, are subject to investigation by a district attorney, the GBI and the FBI, and can result in charges ranging from disciplinary action up to murder. That’s what happened in the Johnston case. And, Porter points out, if the procedures specified in House Bill 56 had been in effect last summer, the officers seeing the no knock warrant that ultimately led to the injury of Bou Bou would likely not have been issued at all.

One of the people campaigning heavily against Tanner’s bill is former State House District 22 Rep. Sam Moore. Last year, Moore sponsored House Bill 1046, which would have allowed someone who had been served a no knock warrant to shoot the police officer executing it.

No one likes it when something goes wrong during the execution of a search warrant, or for that matter any time police officers are doing their duty. And, if it’s at all possible, law enforcement officers should announce their presence. Rep. Tanner’s bill provides guidelines for approval and execution of warrants that should limit their improper use. It also requires that the use of warrants be monitored and reported so the public can decide if a judge is authorizing too many of them, information that can be used when the judge is up for re-election. And it provides the legislature with information they can use in the future to further refine the use of no knocks.

On its website, the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia calls itself “a nonpartisan, non-profit organization that seeks to defend the principles and freedoms embodied in the Bill of Rights.” And they offered their support for Rep. Tanner’s bill in a statement to Peach Pundit.

The ACLU of GA welcomes HB 56 and the limitations it places on no-knock search warrants. The bill would establish a high burden of probable cause before judges can issue these warrants, and places substantial limitations on how law enforcement subsequently executes them. It also would require extensive reporting from judges who issue no-knocks. Georgia case law, if not the Code itself, has long authorized these kinds of warrants – and, short of legislative override, this likely will not change. What can change is how these warrants are issued and executed. To that end, we thank Rep. Tanner for introducing this carefully crafted legislation, which will go a long way to regulating this practice.

Rep. Tanner’s bill has had several hearings by the Judiciary-Non Civil Committee, but has yet to receive a do-pass recommendation. In the Senate, Republican Jesse Stone of Waynesboro has sponsored a similar measure as Senate Bill 159, albeit without the reporting requirement in the House bill. That bill was scheduled for a hearing on Wednesday that got canceled due to bad weather.

Time will tell if either bill gets a vote in its respective chamber, or if pressure from those opposing any type of no knock warrant as a constitutional infringement will win the debate.

18 comments

  1. blakeage80 says:

    The ACLU pretty much sums up my thinking on the bill. I really like the data that will be generated through the new reporting requirements and hope it will be used to really refine this practice. Honestly, though, I think no-knocks are completely unacceptable to perpetrate on the innocent.

  2. Dave Bearse says:

    “The police practice of executing no knock search warrants came under criticism last year…” again.

    While there were worse circumstances, nothing was done when 92 year old Kathryn Johnston was killed in 2006 after squeezing off a shot after police executed a no knock warrant.

    The legislation will be a slam dunk after little Sophia gets hers.

  3. Will Durant says:

    I doubt that the data can be found, but how many home invasion robberies now mimic the SWAT tactics, “uniforms”, and gear to conduct their crime? I’m fine with the evidence being flushed 1,000 times vs. one killing of an innocent like Mrs. Johnston. Where is Georgia Carry on this one. What would you do if you woke in the middle of the night with guys dressed in black BDUs kicking in your door regardless of what they are screaming?

  4. gcp says:

    HB 56 is a reasonable bill and should be passed but as stated in the article, it won’t prevent corrupt officers as in the Johnson case from lying to get a search warrant.

        • gcp says:

          Two different issues. No knocks are needed to prevent destruction of evidence, prevent offender from time to obtain a weapon or flee the location.

          No warrant is needed to enter in life-threatening or “exigent” situations. Its an exception to the search warrant/no-knock search warrant/arrest warrant normally needed to enter a home without consent.

    • Chuck Shiflett says:

      I understand no warrant is needed by law enforcement for an immediate threat to life… Weyman got it… thus no need for no knock warrants. Far too many cases of death or injury to innocents with these things. With good police work, a suspect can be apprehended away from their domicile or business and then a regular warrant can be simultaneously served on the location and evidence secured.

      • gcp says:

        Yes if you have probable cause pd could obtain an arrest warrant and arrest away from a location, however this practice may involve more manpower and time and could put citizens at risk. Also pd may not have enough info or probable cause for an arrest warrant for all involved but have enough for a no- knock search warrant. One problem involves unknown confederates that may be at a residence and would destroy evidence upon presentation of a regular search as opposed to a no-knock.

        Once again I am in favor of no-knock reform, however the improper use is a bit overblown in terms of the total number of no-knocks successfully served over the years. With the exception of Ms. Johnson in ’06 I don’t know of any innocent citizens killed as a result of a no-knock and her killing was a result of corrupt officers more than anything else.

  5. saltycracker says:

    Any stats on the reason for no knocks ? Flushing some drug down the toilet ?
    Lots of bad guys with guns ? How many days was Moore a rep ?
    No knocks have their place but jumping in yelling boo to pot dealers is weak. Rep. Tanner might be on the right track.

  6. Cody Hall says:

    I read the bill and I believe it has a provision that states that the officer must first consult a superior and they must sign off on the no knock before it can be executed. This bill actually does a lot to rein in a lot of misuse of these warrants. However, Rep. Tanner has gotten a lot of flack from people that think that no knocks are currently illegal in Georgia and that he is trying to make them legal. Both are just not true.

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