Law School Case Brief
Wilson v. Arkansas - 514 U.S. 927, 115 S. Ct. 1914 (1995)
The common-law "knock and announce" principle forms a part of the reasonableness inquiry under the Fourth Amendment.
Sharlene Wilson made a series of narcotics sales to an informant (CI) acting at the direction of the Arkansas State Police. The CI purchased marijuana and methamphetamine at the home that Wilson shared with Bryson Jacobs. Police officers applied for and obtained warrants to search Wilson’s home and to arrest both Wilson and Jacobs. The search was conducted later that afternoon. Police officers found the main door to Wilson’s home open. While opening an unlocked screen door and entering the residence, they identified themselves as police officers and stated that they had a warrant. They found Wilson in the bathroom, flushing marijuana down the toilet. Wilson and Jacobs were arrested and charged with delivery of marijuana, delivery of methamphetamine, possession of drug paraphernalia, and possession of marijuana.
Before trial, Wilson filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized during the search. Wilson asserted that the search was invalid as the officers had failed to "knock and announce" before entering her home. The trial court summarily denied the suppression motion. After a jury trial, Wilson was convicted of all charges and sentenced to 32 years in prison. The state supreme court affirmed defendant's conviction on appeal, finding no authority for the theory that the Fourth Amendment required police officers to knock and announce themselves before entering a residence when executing a search warrant.
Was the failure of the police to knock and announce" before they entered Wilson’s home a violation of the Fourth Amendment?
The United States Supreme Court reversed and held that the common-law knock and announce principle formed a part of the Fourth Amendment reasonableness inquiry. A search or seizure of a dwelling might be constitutionally defective if police officers entered without prior announcement.
The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. In evaluating the scope of this right, the court has looked to the traditional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures afforded by the common law at the time of the framing. Although the underlying command of the Fourth Amendment is always that searches and seizures be reasonable, the content of this term may be guided by the meaning ascribed to it by the framers of the Amendment. An examination of the common law of search and seizure leaves no doubt that the reasonableness of a search of a dwelling may depend in part on whether law enforcement officers announced their presence and authority prior to entering. The case needed to be remanded for a determination of whether the unannounced entry was reasonable under the circumstances.
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