Hudson v. Michigan

Radley Balko posted something interesting on Slate 3 days ago regarding an issue we’ve been discussing lately around these parts: no-knock warrants, and overwhelming force in police tactics.

A case is before the Supreme Court, Hudson v. Michigan, in which police got a warrant to search a drug dealer’s house for cocaine, but didn’t give sufficient time after the “knock” to let the defendant answer the door. Consequentially, the defendant is moving to have the evidence (quite a lot of cocaine) thrown out because of the violation of due process.

Balko states some disturbing facts:

It’s impossible to estimate just how many wrong-door raids occur. Police and prosecutors are notoriously inept at keeping track of their own mistakes, and victims of botched raids are often too terrified or fearful of retribution to come forward. But over the course of researching a paper for the Cato Institute on the subject, I’ve found close to 200 such cases over the last 15 years. And those are just the cases that have been reported.

200 is way too much… we complain about how many people are executed by the state, but at least those people have been put on trial and found to be guilty. Whether right or wrong, they at least had the protection of due process and the law. Victims of botched no-knock raids, like Cory Maye, have no due process, no trial, and are almost always completely innocent of any crime, but they’re executed anyway and nobody seems to care.

The culprit is the rise of the SWAT team, according to Mr. Balko, and I’m hard-pressed to disagree with him.

It’s bad enough when the police serve a no-knock warrant at the wrong place. But this is not regular service of a warrant. No-knock raids are typically carried out by masked, heavily armed SWAT teams using paramilitary tactics more appropriate for the battlefield than the living room. In fact, the rise in no-knock warrants over the last 25 years neatly corresponds with the rise in the number and frequency of use of SWAT teams.

I think that Libertarians running local races could make some serious political hay by supporting the scaling-back, or even complete disbandment, of their local SWAT teams. Yes, they’re conceivably useful in a limited number of cases, but nowhere near the amount of cases they’re currently used for. They cost a lot of extra money that could be spent on more regular cops instead, and they don’t really do much to stop crime beyond shoot the innocent. They exist so Republicans can claim they’re getting “tough on crime.” Also, just because they’re wearing a badge instead of military insignia doesn’t mean they’re not violating the spirit, if not the letter, of Posse Comitatus.

Stuart Richards

Stuart Richards is a 26-year-old land surveyor based out of Portland, OR. He is a left-leaning geolibertarian and (theologically) liberal Christian, and has been blogging on and other libertarian sites since 2004.

  1. Yeah, that idea would go over like a lead balloon. The opposition would just pull out an instance where the SWAT team saved someone and then the libertarian would lose again. People don’t give a damn that the SWAT team and police in general are more likely to endanger them than protect them.

    The police don’t worry about getting the wrong place. Hell, if they do hit the wrong place, it just means they get to have more fun when they hit the right one. There is not the least amount of worry for being held accountable. There is no accountability whatever. Our law enforcement is running loose just like the legislature and courts. It should come as no surprise.

  2. Given that the rise of the SWAT teams has been ongoing since the Clinton days, I think that this issue cannot be correlated with a specific political party. It can certainly be correlated with the “War on Drugs”, but I can’t find evidence of Janet Reno working to scale that back. Our society has just tilted a bit in the direction of thuggery.

    Amassing the details of these cases and posting them on the web as a body of knowledge available to anyone who wants to become informed may counter these negative trends. It would be beneficial to various factions of the public as well as the police. To be effective stay above politics.

    Mike H