United States v. Banks

PETITIONER:United States
RESPONDENT:Lashawn Lowell Banks
LOCATION:Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

DOCKET NO.: 02-473
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 540 US 31 (2003)
GRANTED: Feb 24, 2003
ARGUED: Oct 15, 2003
DECIDED: Dec 02, 2003

David B. Salmons – argued the cause for Petitioner
Randall J. Roske – argued the cause for Respondent
Timothy A. Baughman – for Wayne County, Michigan, as amicus curiae urging reversal

Facts of the case

On July 15, 1998 police officers, with a warrant, knocked on the door of suspected drug dealer Lashawn Banks. They waited between 15 and 20 seconds, and when Banks did not come to the door they smashed it open with a battering ram. Banks was arrested but, before his trial, he filed a motion to suppress the evidence found in his apartment because, he claimed, the forced entry had been unlawful. When the request was denied, he pled guilty, but eventually attempted to retract his guilty plea on the advice of a new attorney. The new attorney, Randall Roske, argued that the search was unconstitutional because officers did not wait long enough before breaking down the door, and had no evidence that waiting longer would have had negative consequences. A Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, ruling the search unconstitutional and suppressing the evidence found during it.


How long must officers wait after knocking on a door before they can use force to break it down in order to execute a warrant?

Media for United States v. Banks

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – October 15, 2003 in United States v. Banks

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – December 02, 2003 in United States v. Banks

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 02-473, United States against Banks will be announced by Justice Souter.

David H. Souter:

This case also comes to us on writ of certiorari of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

At 2 O’clock on a Wednesday afternoon, federal and local law enforcement officers went to the respondent Banks’ apartment to execute a search warrant for cocaine.

They called out police search warrant and rapped loudly on the door.

After 15 to 20 seconds passed with no answer, the officials broke open the door with a battering ram.

Banks was in the shower and he later testified that he heard nothing until the door crashed open.

The ensuing search revealed weapons, crack cocaine, and other evidence of drug dealing.

After being charged with drug and firearms offenses, Banks moved to suppress the evidence arguing that the officers had waited an unreasonably short time before forcing entry, and so violated both the Fourth Amendment and 18 United States Code 3109.

The District Court denied the motion, but a divided panel of the Ninth Circuit reversed in order to the suppression of the evidence.

Specifically, the Circuit Court treated this case as one that presented no exigent circumstances demanding quick action with the outset, and it held that the officers lacked adequate justification for using force to enter so soon after knocking.

In an opinion filed today with the Clerk of Court, we reverse and hold that the 15 to 20 seconds wait before the forceable entry satisfied the Fourth Amendment and the statute.

We held in Richards v. Wisconsin that the obligation to knock and announce gives way when officers get reasonable grounds either to expect that waiting is futile, or to suspect that knocking and announcing would trigger some exigency such as a risk that evidence will be destroyed immediately.

We held in the United States v. Ramirez, that police, in exigent circumstances, may damage property as far as necessary for a no-knock entry without demonstrating the exigency in any more detail and for non-forceable unannounced intrusions.

The principles underlying these cases govern the result in this case.

Here, the police arrived at Banks’ door without reasonable suspicion of any facts justifying a no-knock entry, and they honored their obligations in knock-and-announce.

We think however, that after 15 to 20 seconds without a response, the police could fairly view the circumstances as requiring them to act without further delay.

They could reasonably suspect that cocaine evidence would be destroyed if they waited any longer.

What matters here is the opportunity of someone inside the apartment to get rid of cocaine.

This turns on the arrival of the police during the day when occupants would probably have been up and around in the sufficiency of 15 to 20 seconds to start flushing cocaine down the drain once an occupant would have known he police were outside.

As soon as the exigency had matured, the officers were not bound to learn anything more or wait any longer before going in even though their entry entailed property damage.

We see no reason to treat a post-knock exigency differently from its no-knock counterpart.

We reject however the government’s suggestion that the need to damage property should not be part of the reasonable analysis in a case with no reason to suspect an exigency or futility in waiting.

The wait time may well be longer before the police may reasonably make a force entry since they ought to be more certain that the occupant has had time to answer the door.

The opinion of the Court is unanimous.