Richards v. Wisconsin
520 U.S. 385, 117 S. Ct. 1416, 137 L. Ed.2d 615 (1997)

  • The police obtained a warrant to search Richard’s hotel room.
    • They specifically asked for a no-knock warrant, but the magistrate refused waive the knock-and-announce requirement.
  • The police arrived at Richard’s hotel room dressed as maintenance men, claiming to be hotel employees. Richards suspected they were police and refused to let them in. They broke down the door and found drugs in the hotel room. Richards was arrested for drug possession.
  • The Trial Court convicted Richards for drug possession. He appealed.
    • Richards argued that the search was invalid because the police did not satisfy the knock-and-announce requirement.
      • The knock-and-announce requirement says that the police must announce their presence and wait a reasonable amount of time for the homeowner to open the door before breaking it down.
    • The Trial Court found that Richards’ suspicious behavior when the police arrived made it reasonable for the police to conclude he might try to destroy evidence. Therefore they were not bound by the knock-and-announce requirement.
  • The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the conviction. Richards appealed.
    • The Wisconsin Supreme Court found that it was reasonable to assume that in all drug-related crimes there was a high risk that evidence might be destroyed or that someone might attack the police. Therefore they suggested a blanket exception the police were not bound by the knock-and-announce requirement when investigating drug-related crimes.
  • The US Supreme Court upheld the conviction.
    • The US Supreme Court rejected the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s blanket exception and found that the courts should decide each case separately, according to the facts of that particular case.
      • The three exceptions to the knock-and-announce requirement are when the police suspect that evidence might be destroyed, that someone might be endangered, or that it is futile to knock because no one is home.
      • There is a slippery slope that once categories of crimes are exempt from the requirement, them more categories will also be found to be exempt, and soon there is nothing left of knock-and-announce.
    • In this case, the Court found that it was reasonable to believe that Richards might destroy evidence. Therefore the search was valid, even though they did not knock-and-announce.
      • Even though the magistrate didn’t sign off on the no-knock warrant, Richard’s actions at the door were sufficient to allow the police to make an instantaneous judgment call to dispense with the knock-and-announce requirement.