The Supreme Court and the Knock and Announce Rule

Date01 September 2006
Published date01 September 2006
Subject MatterArticles
The Supreme Court and the Knock
and Announce Rule
Craig Hemmens
Boise State University, ID
The regular “Recent Legal Developments” feature here gives way to a review of Supreme
Court decisions addressing one particular criminal justice–related issue: the knock and
announce rule. The knock and announce rule is an ancient restriction on the manner by
which the police may enter a dwelling. Although the knock and announce rule has been
examined by every state and federal court (Hemmens, 1997), its applicability to the Fourth
Amendment was never expressly determined by the Supreme Court until 1995. Since 1995,
however, the Supreme Court has decided five cases involving the knock and announce rule.
This article discusses the history and development of the knock and announce rule and
examines the Supreme Court’s recent decisions, including Hudson v. Michigan, decided
June 15, 2006.
Law enforcement agencies are aggressively pursuing drug offenders. They are doing so
with the advent of new technologies (such as chemical drug tests and infrared heat scan-
ners) and new methods (such as pretext stops and profiling). A primary example of aggres-
sive policing methods is the increase in unannounced, forcible entries of the homes of
drug suspects. This aggressive manner of entry conflicts with the common law knock and
announce rule. The knock and announce rule requires police officers seeking to enter a
home to first notify occupants of their presence and purpose. The rule was intended to pro-
vide some protection to homeowners from unwarned police entries. The rule is not
absolute, however, as courts recognize several exceptions. The police seek to avoid the
rule to surprise suspects, ostensibly to protect themselves, and prevent the destruction of
The Knock and Announce Rule
The knock and announce rule requires police officers to identify themselves and give
notice of their purpose prior to entering a home. Exactly what constitutes identification and
notice of purpose has engendered some debate. Generally, what is required is that police
officers (a) identify themselves, (b) demand entry, (c) inform the occupants of the legal
basis for their authority to enter, and (d) give the occupants an opportunity to admit them
before resorting to forcible entry (LaFave, 1996; Note, 1970). In common practice, this
translates to police officers standing at the door and calling out something like “Police offi-
cers. We have a search warrant.” The demand to enter can be as simple and direct as “open
the door,” or it may be inferred from statements such as “We have a search warrant.” Once
notice and announcement are made, the police must provide the occupants a reasonable
opportunity to open the door before resorting to forcible entry. Jurisdictions vary widely on
Criminal Justice Review
Volume 31 Number 3
September 2006 281-300
© 2006 Georgia State University
Research Foundation, Inc.
hosted at
Recent Legal Developments
what constitutes a reasonable opportunity, with some requiring mere seconds (Hemmens,
1997). Refusal to admit the officer may be inferred from the circumstances, such as the
sound of footsteps running away from the door, a window breaking, or the sound of a toi-
let flushing (LaFave, 1996).
The knock and announce rule is not intended to prevent police entry but merely to ensure
that entry is as peaceful and nondestructive as possible under the circumstances. Consequently,
entry without notice is allowed in certain situations. These instances, often grouped
together under the heading of “exigent circumstances,” include danger to (innocent) occu-
pants of the premises, danger to the police, the possibility of the destruction of evidence,
and the possibility that the occupants will escape (Annotation, 1976). Announcement is
also unnecessary when it would be a “useless gesture” (LaFave, 1996), that is, when the
presence and purpose of the police is already known to the occupants. Entry by force is per-
missible after notice and announcement is given and refused or if there is no response to
the officer’s announcement of his or her presence and purpose.
The knock and announce rule serves at least four purposes. First, the rule helps to pre-
vent violence by reducing the number of unannounced entries into homes, thereby elimi-
nating the possibility that a homeowner will mistake the police for a burglar or other
unauthorized intruder. Second, the rule helps reduce the destruction of property by provid-
ing the homeowner with the opportunity to admit the police peacefully, eliminating the
need for the police to break into the home. Third, the rule allows the homeowner to redi-
rect police officers who are at the wrong address. Fourth, and perhaps most important, the
rule helps to protect an individual’s right to privacy (LaFave, 1996; Mericli, 1989).
The Knock and Announce Rule 1603-1958
The knock and announce rule dates from the early common law period. It was mentioned
in the Statute of Westminster (1275), which apparently codified existing common law
(Blackstone, 1978). The first recorded English case discussing the knock and announce rule
was Semayne’s Case (1604), in which the court stated the following:
The sheriff (if the doors be not open) may break the party’s house, either to arrest him, or to
do other execution of the King’s process, if otherwise he cannot enter. But before he breaks it,
he ought to signify the cause of his coming, and to make request to open the doors. (p. 195)
Although Semayne’s Case involved the execution of a civil writ, in Curtis’s Case (1757),
the court announced that law enforcement officers were justified in entering a home by
force only if they first demanded admittance and gave notice that the officer was acting
under proper authority and not as a trespasser. Several scholars of the time indicate that
notice and announcement were generally required in the execution of both civil and crimi-
nal warrants (Blackstone, 1978; Hale, 1847).
Early American colonial case law followed the English tradition. Writs of assistance
were commonly used by colonial officials searching for prohibited goods. Yet even these
writs, with their broad language and scope, could be executed only after notice was first
given to the suspect (Cuddihy, 1990; Lasson, 1937). After the American Revolution, at least
282 Criminal Justice Review

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