James J. Kilpatrick

Maybe next term will be better. That is about the best that can be said of the Supreme Court's 2005 term. It effectively ended last Thursday, not with a bang but with a sputter.

The term saw only 67 signed opinions. Perhaps half a dozen of these will make it to the Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court. Most of them will serve only to settle insignificant conflicts among the lower state and federal courts. The term's nine 5-4 divisions included several cases that left the law even muddier than it was before. For example, consider the court's division last month in Hudson v. Michigan. Here the court came down -- shakily -- on the side of the cops in an important case arising under the Fourth Amendment.

The case arose in Detroit in the summer of 1998 when police executed a search warrant on the home of Booker T. Hudson. The lead officer, Jamal Good, loudly announced their presence. Then, without knocking, he waited "three to five seconds" and burst through the unlocked door. Hudson was sitting in a chair in the living room. A loaded pistol was concealed in its cushions. The cops seized the pistol and a "large quantity" of drugs. The trial judge granted counsel's motion to suppress the evidence, but Michigan's Supreme Court reversed. Eventually Hudson was acquitted on the firearms charge and sentenced to 18 months on probation for drug possession.

In the U.S. Supreme Court, Hudson's lawyers argued that the search was "unreasonable" under the Fourth Amendment. There had been no true "knock and announce." The state conceded that, yes, Good's summary entrance had violated the Exclusionary Rule, but what should be the remedy? Suppress the evidence? The officers would have found the cocaine either immediately or inevitably. The rule, the state argued, should not be so mechanically applied.

In his opinion for the court, Justice Antonin Scalia acknowledged that the "knock and announce" rule has its valuable aspects. It protects human life, "because an unannounced entry may provoke violence in supposed self-defense by the surprised resident." Moreover, a brief interlude between announcement and entry "may be the opportunity that an individual has to pull on clothes or get out of bed."

James J. Kilpatrick

James J. Kilpatrick has been reporter, editor, columnist, commentator, and briefly an adjunct professor of journalism.

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