Monday December 5, 2016
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One of the most difficult things for us in this old world is to remain objective about an issue that falls close to home. If something happens to someone else we may feel one way about it, but we often do a 180 when it affects us. That's natural and human. The question here is going to be how objective we can be about a tragedy that occurred in Texas. And there's a second and a third question too, as you will see.
First the facts:
Just at sunrise on December 19, 2014, a SWAT team armed with a legitimate "no knock" search warrant began breaking into the home of 28-year-old Henry Magee with no vocal or other warning. Magee, thinking "someone was breaking into his home" fired to protect his pregnant girlfriend and himself.
Burleson County Sheriff's Deputy Adam Sowders was shot and killed.
Magee surrendered without further ado when he found out who was battering down his door.
The SWAT Team found about six marijuana plants growing inside his house and the grand jury indicted him for possession of marijuana while in possession of a deadly weapon.
However, the same grand jury decided there was not enough evidence against Magee to require him to stand trial on the capital murder charge which had been filing against him.
Magee's attorney, speaking for his client, said, "Well, we feel that the grand jury acted fairly and reasonably and had all of the information that it needed to make the decision that it did. That is, that this was a justified shooting, but we need to also say that this was a tragedy."
If you read the news as I do, you know that a lot of bad things have come out of no-knock search warrants, so....
The Questions Are....
To answer the other two questions, you need a few more facts: The sheriff's office had no direct evidence that Magee was guilty of anything. All they had was the statement of an informant that he had illegal drugs and stolen guns in his home.
You should also know that Magee has NOT been charged with having stolen weapons in his possession; he has only been charged with possession of marijuana while in possession of a deadly weapon.
Also, Magee lived in a mobile home and had no other way out except through one of its two doors. He could have been arrested when he walked outside to go to the store.
Do you think that no-knock warrants, with all their possible ramifications, and their long history of bad, results, are wise?
Do you think that no-knock warrants, which skirt very close to the edge of the Fourth Amendment right against undue search and seizure should be issued at all? And if you think they may properly be issued, do you think there are sufficient restrictions placed on how, when, and why they should be issued, and how they may be carried out?
That's a lot to think about. Take your time.
I'll ask the question again, but I'll add a little something.
The usual purpose given for no-knock warrants is either to protect evidence from being destroyed or to make it safer for the police who are breaking down the door.
My view is that, (a) it would take some kind of genius with a rocket set up to to destroy the kind of evidence that was available in this case - marijuana plants and guns; he'd have to put them in orbit. And, (b) I just don't see how it makes a police officer any safer to come up to my door and start breaking it down "unannounced." The most likely thing he is going to get is very throughly shot through the door. And, (c) doing such a thing to someone who has drugs in the house seems even more unwise because the perps keep breaking in and stealing from each other. And, (d) why not just wait until the perp comes out to go to the store as he was known to do every day? And (e), I'm curious to know if the poor deputy who got killed had any say in how the arrest was handled?
"1.Do you think that no-knock warrants, with all their possible ramifications, and their long history of bad, results, are wise?"
No, for exactly the reasons that you cited, as well as, so many others. Unless surveillance has been conducted for more than a week with constant "eyes on the house" the police have no way of knowing who is and is not in the house. Furthermore, unless the suspect has been seen to be selling or dealing illegal drugs or guns, the police have no proof other than the word of a person who has proven motivation and incentive to lie. Blasting in to a house with little or no idea what is on the other side of the door has already proven to have disastrous results for the police. As for the Deputy who was killed? Typically, the teams that serve this type of warrant are well trained and each team member is well aware what his or her responsibility is going to be during an operation such as this. Personally, that Deputy may not have agreed with the process, professionally, he had a job to do and a responsibility to his team.
"2.Do you think that no-knock warrants, which skirt very close to the edge of the Fourth Amendment right against undue search and seizure should be issued at all? And if you think they may properly be issued, do you think there are sufficient restrictions placed on how, when, and why they should be issued, and how they may be carried out?"
Short answer? Absolutely not!! A persons home is their sanctuary and whether they are a criminal or a righteous, law-abiding citizen, we each have a right to expect our fourth amendment right to be respected; and until and unless the police have indisputable proof of unlawful activity being conducted inside a home, via their own surveillance and knowledge, and not based on the word of a person who has already proven themselves to be not of the highest moral character, this type of warrant is, in my opinion, illegal, and in violation of several laws and rights. As for restrictions? Seriously? We all know that there are ways around any restriction that may be placed.
No! They should not be allowed to have the no knock warrants, and if they have a legal warrant they better find what they are looking for. It is my understanding it has to be on the warrant what they are looking for. Not just a random search. And the law enforcement should have to repair any thing they break when they don't find what they were looking for.
Nicely said, Kim. You too, Pat. I agree with both of you.
I will admit, of course, that I'm not part of the law enforcement world, and am not expert. I'm making a decision largely based on general knowledge. It could very well be that someone with more experience and expertise could come on here with more facts and change our minds. Who knows?
But as to wisdom? I've read far too many cases where a search warrant was granted on far too thin grounds, and I've also read several cases where a no-knock search warrant seemed very unwise because there was a much simpler way of ensuring that evidence not be destroyed. In this case, since the man went to the store every day, why not pick him up then? Could be there are reasons, but if there are In just don't know them.
One thing that affects my thinking is that I have been reading book on the subject written a whole century ago when such things were considered illegal, and a clear violation of the 4th Amendment, but were done anyway because they could "be gotten away with."
One of the books, written by a well know prosecutor, simply says that without violating the 4th Amendment it would be hard to to enforce the law. An example? He makes it clear that law enforcement at the time thought it was okay to stop someone walking down the street at night in a city with a bag in his hand. He simple says that if the police aren't allowed to stop "potential burglars" walking around with their tools in a bag, how are the police going to protect us? He also says that the "innocent until proven guilty" concept is pure smoke and mirrors, and is of no importance. Very outspoken man, and a good writer too. Name is Arthur Cheney Train. He wrote both fiction and non-fiction, and his book "True Stories of Crime From the District Attorney's Office" is a classic, and a great read. Here's a link in case you want a free copy:
If you'd like to read what he has to say about crime in general and search warrants, just download this:
If they were thinking that way a century ago, how can we expect our rights to be preserved today? We are routinely stopped while driving just because it happens to be some holiday; how can that be right?
I don't know; the whole thing seems to be a mess.
Pat's point that they better find what they are looking for if they use a no-knock warrant makes a lot of sense. Otherwise, there should be an automatic review of the grounds for the search warrant. Why? I think I can answer that question best by putting up another string which touches upon this issue: "694 The Question Is... That stuff that bulls drop."
I'll put it up when I close this string.
I would also love it if someone with some police experience, or some more detailed knowledge, came on and showed how no-knock warrants might involve the safety of police officers, always an important consideration.
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