[Legal Briefs 


Supreme Court Allows Police to Use Evidence Gained from Illegal Search

In a recent case which may signal a trend towards even greater police power to conduct home searches, the Supreme Court allowed the use of evidence seized by police in a home search even though they did not "knock and announce" before entering the home--as was previously required under the Fourth Amendment. The ruling places new limits on the exclusionary rule which bars the government from using evidence gained from an illegal search by the police. The exclusionary rule no longer applies to the "knock and announce" requirement for home searches.

In earlier rulings, the Supreme Court had required that police must knock and announce their presence, and wait for a period of time (up to 15 to 20 seconds) before entering a home. However, if police have a reason to think that the person is dangerous or will destroy evidence, then they need not "knock and announce."

In this case (Hudson v. Michigan), the officers announced their presence then rushed into the house after waiting only 3 to 5 seconds. They found cocaine and a gun in the house. Rather than argue that the search fell within an accepted exception based on the threat of harm to the officers or the likelihood of destruction of evidence, the prosecution argued more broadly that the exclusionary rule simply should not apply to violations of the Fourth Amendment's restrictions on unreasonable searches and seizures. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in dissent that "The court destroys the strongest legal incentive to comply with the Constitution's knock-and-announce requirement." Justices Scalia, Roberts, Thomas, Kennedy, and Alito formed the majority of the Court on this case (Bloomberg News, June 15). Police accountability activist Michael Novick in Los Angeles describes the decision as one that will lead to more doors being busted down and therefore, a greater possibility that more officers will be injured--a lose/lose scenario.

...and Rules Against Military Tribunals for Guantanamo Detainees

In June, the Supreme Court dealt a major setback to the Bush administration's plan to try Guantanamo detainees before military tribunals, which usually consist of three military officers. The case of Hamden v. Rumsfeld focused on Salim Ahmed Hamden, who was the driver for Osama bin Laden. The Court ruled that President Bush overstepped his authority through the use of such tribunals to try detainees.

The Justices reasoned in their 5-3 vote that the use of military tribunals was unauthorized by federal statute and violated international law. Hamdan's lawyers had argued that the tribunals did not allow detainees to defend themselves, such as by confronting their accusers or being present for all parts of the trial. Two years ago the Court ruled that detainees at Guantanamo are not beyond the reach of U.S. courts and are guaranteed some rights under the Constitution and international law.

Unfortunately, the ruling only applies to 10 of the about 450 people at Guantanamo who have actually been accused of war crimes (Willamette Week, August 9).


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