Richards v. Wisconsin
Decided on Apr. 28, 1997; 520 US 385


A. Issues Discussed: Search and seizure

B. Legal Question Presented:

Did the police officers' failure to "knock and announce" before entering petitioner's hotel room, violate the Fourth Amendment's protection against illegal search and seizures?


A. Background:

"In Wilson v. Arkansas, 514 U.S. 927, this Court held that the Fourth Amendment incorporates the common law requirement that police knock on a dwelling's door and announce their identity and purpose before attempting forcible entry, recognized that the flexible reasonableness requirement should not be read to mandate a rigid announcement rule that ignores countervailing law enforcement interests, and left it to the lower courts to determine the circumstances under which an unannounced entry is reasonable.

Officers in Madison, Wisconsin obtained a warrant to search petitioner Richards' hotel room for drugs and related paraphernalia, but the magistrate refused to give advance authorization for a 'no knock' entry. The officer who knocked on Richards' door was dressed, and identified himself, as a maintenance man. Upon opening the door, Richards also saw a uniformed officer and quickly closed the door. The officers kicked down the door, caught Richards trying to escape, and found cash and cocaine in the bathroom.

In denying Richards' motion to suppress the evidence on the ground that the officers did not knock and announce their presence before forcing entry, the trial court found that they could gather from Richards' strange behavior that he might try to destroy evidence or escape and that the drugs' disposable nature further justified their decision not to knock and announce. The State Supreme Court affirmed, concluding that Wilson did not preclude the court's pre-Wilson per se rule that police officers are never required to knock and announce when executing a search warrant in a felony drug investigation because of the special circumstances of today's drug culture."

On appeal the US Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin.

B. Counsel of Record:


Opposing Side

Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
Opposing Side
David R. Karpe, by appointment of the Court, 519 U. S. 1106, argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were John Wesley Hall, Jr., Henry R. Schultz, and Jack E. Schairer.

Tracey Maclin, Steven R. Shapiro, and Lisa B. Kemler filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. as amici curiae urging reversal.

James E. Doyle, Attorney General of Wisconsin, argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief was Stephen W. Kleinmaier, Assistant Attorney General.

Miguel A. Estrada argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging affirmance. On the brief were Acting Solicitor General Dellinger, Acting Assistant Attorney General Richard, Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben, James A. Feldman, and Deborah Watson.

Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the State of Ohio et al. by Betty D. Montgomery, Attorney General of Ohio, Jeffrey S. Sutton, State Solicitor, Simon B. Karas, and Diane R. Richards, and by the Attorneys General for their respective jurisdictions as follows: Bill Pryor of Alabama, Bruce M. Botelho of Alaska, Winston Bryant of Arkansas, M. Jane Brady of Delaware, Robert A. Butterworth of Florida, Gus F. Diaz of Guam, Alan G. Lance of Idaho, James E. Ryan of Illinois, Carla J. Stovall of Kansas, A. B. Chandler III of Kentucky, Richard P. Ieyoub of Louisiana, J. Joseph Curran of Maryland, Frank J. Kelley of Michigan, Mike Moore of Mississippi, Joseph P. Mazurek of Montana, Don Stenberg of Nebraska, Thomas J. Miller of Iowa, Frankie Sue Del Papa of Nevada, Steven M. Houran of New Hampshire, Peter Verniero of New Jersey, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Jose Fuentes Agostini of Puerto Rico, Jeffrey B. Pine of Rhode Island, Charles Molony Condon of South Carolina, Mark W. Barnett of South Dakota, Jan Graham of Utah, and James Gilmore III of Virginia;

and for Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, Inc., et al. by Fred E. Inbau, Wayne W. Schmidt, James P. Manak, Richard M. Weintraub, and Bernard J. Farber.


"The Fourth Amendment does not permit a blanket exception to the knock and announce requirement for felony drug investigations. While the requirement can give way under circumstances presenting a threat of physical violence or where officers believe that evidence would be destroyed if advance notice were given, the fact that felony drug investigations may frequently present such circumstances cannot remove from the neutral scrutiny of a reviewing court the reasonableness of the police decision not to knock and announce in a particular case... This standard strikes the appropriate balance between the legitimate law enforcement concerns at issue in the execution of search warrants and the individual privacy interests affected by no knock entries.

Because the evidence in this case establishes that the decision not to knock and announce was a reasonable one under the circumstances, the officers' entry into the hotel room did not violate the Fourth Amendment. That the magistrate had originally refused to issue a no knock warrant means only that at the time the warrant was requested there was insufficient evidence for a no knock entry. However, the officers' decision to enter the room must be evaluated as of the time of entry."

The US Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin.

Justice Vote: 0 Pro vs. 9 Con

  • Stevens, J. Con (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • O'Connor, S. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Breyer, S. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Ginsburg, R. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Souter, D. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Kennedy, A. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Scalia, A. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Thomas, C. Con (Joined majority opinion)

    The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged reversal of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin's judgment; the Supreme Court affirmed in a 9-0 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent loss.