Radley Balko of the Washington Post has written
at length about the legal issues underlying whether Little Rock police have been acting constitutionally in no-knock drug raids (never mind that they have often come up empty-handed, relied on a liar and disproportionately busted black people.)

The article is an in-depth look at the split legal decisions covering such police activities, but Balko concludes that the police — with help from local judges — are not meeting constitutional requirements.


To begin:

One of the more damning revelations I found in my investigation of the Little Rock Police Department narcotics unit is that it appears to be serving each drug warrant with a no-knock raid. The Supreme Court has ruled that, in order to get a no-knock warrant, law-enforcement officers must show evidence that the suspect poses a risk either to the safety of police officers or of disposing the evidence if the police were to knock and announce before entering the suspect’s residence. But that evidence must be particular to each individual case. You can’t simply say all drug dealers are violent, therefore we’re going to serve all drug warrants with a no-knock raid. But that is exactly what the LRPD’s narcotics unit has been doing, and Little Rock criminal-court judges have been letting it get away with it.

A 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision leaves some roomon no-knock searches. Justice Antonin Scalia, in the majority, said police internal discipline and the threat of lawsuits would discourage police misbehavior. alko notes:


Arkansas actually has an additional search warrant requirement: Forced-entry raids must be conducted during day hours — between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. If the police want to serve a warrant at night, they have to explain to a judge why that particular timing is necessary. Moreover, the Arkansas Supreme Court has ruled that when police violate this rule, any incriminating evidence they find cannot be used at trial.

This sets up a perfect test for the U.S. Supreme Court rule on excluding evidence.

I examined 105 warrants served between 2016 and 2018. In each one, the police requested permission for a no-knock raid. In at least 103 of the 105, that request was granted by a Little Rock judge. (In two instances, the page of the warrant in which the judge provided instructions on knock-and-announce was missing.) Moreover, in 97 of the 105 cases, the police provided no specific information for why the suspect named in the warrant merited a no-knock raid. In two other cases, the police cited a suspect’s conceal carry permit as evidence of that suspect’s potential threat to officer safety — a dubious proposition at best.

So 97, and possibly 99, of these 105 warrants were in violation of the Fourth Amendment. I think it is safe to say that, contrary to Scalia’s opinion, lawsuits and internal discipline are providing very little deterrence here. And Little Rock residents have very little protection against having their Fourth Amendment rights violated by illegal no-knock raids.

But what about time of day, a requirement of Arkansas law?


The time-of-day requirement is enforced by suppressing evidence when police violated it. And of the 105 warrants I reviewed, 80 included directions from Little Rock judges stating that the warrant was to be served either “anytime day,” or “between 6am and 8pm.” In 22 cases, the judges specified that warrants be served “anytime day or night,” and one warrant did not specifiy a time. (Here again, two warrants were missing the page where you’d normally find these instructions.) From what I can tell, of the 80 instances in which a judge instructed Little Rock police to serve the warrant during the day, the officers complied with those instructions.

Bottom line:

When Little Rock police and judges know a rule will be enforced by suppression of evidence, they complied with that rule at least 76 percent of the time. (It could be more, depending on how many of the 22 exceptions were legitimate.) But when it’s a rule not enforced by suppressing evidence, they at most complied 8 percent of the time.

This is not a matter of an isolated raid against one innocent man who had a video camera to record the explosive, military-style invasion of his home. It is a matter of practice by a rogue police department. Does Chief Kenton Buckner care? Mayor Mark Stodola? Members of the City Board? To date the answer is: Not much.

Time for action. Meanwhile, Balko promises more: