Richards v. Wisconsin

LOCATION:Attorney General Office

DOCKET NO.: 96-5955
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: Wisconsin Supreme Court

CITATION: 520 US 385 (1997)
ARGUED: Mar 24, 1997
DECIDED: Apr 28, 1997

David R. Karpe – Argued the cause for the petitioner
James E. Doyle – Argued the cause for the respondent
Miguel A. Estrada – On behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the respondent

Facts of the case

Police in Madison, Wisconsin, suspected Steiney Richards of drug possession, but failed to receive a magistrate’s authorization for a “no-knock” entry into his hotel room. Instead, they obtained a conventional search warrant requiring them to knock on Richards’ door and identify themselves as officers prior to resorting to forcible entry. After arriving on the scene, an officer knocked on Richards’ door identifying himself as a hotel custodian. When Richards opened the door, he saw a uniformed officer and quickly slammed it shut. The officers broke through the door, grabbed Richards while trying to escape, and found cocaine and cash in his bathroom. At trial, Richards challenged the constitutionality of the officer’s search but was denied. On appeal, Wisconsin’s Supreme Court affirmed and the Supreme Court granted certiorari.


Did the officers’ use of deception and force, in order to gain entry into Richards’ hotel room, violate the Fourth Amendment’s protection against illegal search and seizures?

Media for Richards v. Wisconsin

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – March 24, 1997 in Richards v. Wisconsin

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – April 28, 1997 in Richards v. Wisconsin

Mr. Chief Justice Rehnquist:The opinion of the Court in Number 96-5955, Richards against Wisconsin will be announced by Justice Stevens.

Two years ago in a case called Wilson against Arkansas, we held that the Fourth Amendment to the Federal Constitution incorporates the common law requirement that police officers entering a dwelling has knocked on the door and announced their identity and purpose before attempting forceable entry.

At the same time, we recognized that the flexible requirement of reasonableness should not be read to mandate a rigid rule of announcement that ignores countervailing law enforcement interest and left to the lower courts the task of determining the circumstances under which an unannounced entry is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

In this case, the Wisconsin Supreme Court concluded that our decision in Wilson did not foreclose a categorical rule allowing police officers to forgo the knock-and-announce requirement in every felony drug investigation.

We granted certiorari to consider whether this was a proper application of our holding in Wilson.

In the unanimous opinion filed with the clerk today, we disapproved the Wisconsin Court’s blanket exception to knock-and-announce.

Nevertheless, based on the particular facts of this case, we affirm that court’s judgment because the no knock entry in this case was reasonable under the circumstances.