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Justices rule on 'no-knock' warrant executions

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The Indiana Constitution doesn’t require prior judicial authorization for a “no-knock” execution of a warrant when justified by exigent circumstances, the Indiana Supreme Court held Tuesday. This is the case even if those circumstances are known by police when the warrant is obtained.

The high court released opinions in the companion interlocutory appeals of Cornelius Tyrone Lacey Sr. v. State of Indiana, No. 02S05-1010-CR-601, and Damion J. Wilkins v. State of Indiana, No. 02S03-1010-CR-604, in which the men challenged the denial of their motions to suppress evidence obtained after police forced their way into Cornelius Lacey’s home without knocking and announcing themselves while executing a search warrant. Wilkins was also at Lacey’s home when police arrived.

The men are charged with unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon and possession of marijuana. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the denial of their motions to suppress.

In Lacey, the justices delved into the men’s arguments that police knew about the exigent circumstances asserted by the state to justify the no-knock entry, but that police didn’t provide the information to the magistrate and didn’t seek and receive explicit authorization to dispense with the knock and announce procedure.

Justice Brent Dickson noted that Indiana jurisprudence hadn’t confronted whether police must obtain no-knock warrants when justified solely by information known at the time of the warrant application. The justices examined cases in federal and state courts, including some in Indiana, to hold that Article I, Section 11 of the state constitution doesn’t require prior judicial authorization for the execution of a no-knock warrant when justified by exigent circumstances, even if police know those circumstances when they get the warrant.

“Rather, courts will assess the reasonableness of entry based on the totality of the circumstances at the time the warrant was served. Constitutional uncertainty may be minimized when police, knowing in advance of the need to execute a warrant without complying with the knock and announce requirement, present the known facts when seeking the warrant and obtain express judicial authorization for a no-knock entry. This is certainly the better practice,” wrote Justice Dickson.

In Wilkins, Wilkins argued that the factual circumstances presented in the record didn’t constitute sufficient exigent circumstances to justify the no-knock execution. He claimed that the exigent circumstances relied on by the state was officer safety, that this came from Wilkins’ prior conviction for armed robbery and resisting arrest, and that the state didn’t establish that the police had any expectation that he would be at Lacey’s home when they searched the residence. Therefore, it was an unreasonable search prohibited by the federal constitution.

But suppression isn’t appropriate under federal law, and the justices affirmed the denial of his motion.

The Supreme Court affirmed the denial of their motions to suppress and summarily affirmed the Court of Appeals as to the men’s other appellate claims.

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