United States v. Ramirez

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: Location of the oil rig Oncale worked on

DOCKET NO.: 96-1469
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 523 US 65 (1998)
ARGUED: Jan 13, 1998
DECIDED: Mar 04, 1998

David C. Frederick - Department of Justice, argued the cause for the petitioner
Michael R. Levine - Argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

While in route to testify, Alan Shelby, a dangerous prisoner serving concurrent state and federal sentences, escaped custody. An ATF Agent, based on an informant's information, observed a person resembling Shelby at Hernan Ramirez's home in Boring, Oregon. Subsequently, the Government obtained a "no-knock" warrant to enter and search the home. Executing the warrant, officers broke a single window in Ramirez's home. Awakened, Ramirez fired a pistol into the garage ceiling. After being arrested, because of a stash of weapons in his garage, Ramirez was indicted on federal charges of being a felon in possession of firearms. Shelby was not found. Granting Ramirez's motion to suppress evidence regarding his possession of the weapons, the District Court found that the officers had violated the Fourth Amendment because there were "insufficient exigent circumstances" to justify the police officer's destruction of property in their execution of the warrant. The Court of Appeals affirmed.


Does the Fourth Amendment require that police officers have more than a "reasonable suspicion" that knocking and announcing their presence before entering would be dangerous, futile, or inhibit the effective investigation of a crime when a "no-knock" entry results in the destruction of property?

Media for United States v. Ramirez

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 13, 1998 in United States v. Ramirez

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in Number 96-1469, United States v. Hernan Ramirez.

Mr. Frederick.

David C. Frederick:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case concerns whether police officers must have a higher justification than reasonable suspicion if they damage property while making a no-knock entry to execute a search warrant.

The officers here sought to apprehend an escaped convict who had committed numerous violent acts and had stated that he would never return to prison.

While executing a no-knock entry at respondent's house to execute a search warrant to look for that fugitive, the officers broke a single garage door windowpane.

Based on that property damage, the Ninth Circuit held that the officers must have a higher justification for foregoing with the general principle of knock and announcement.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Just a preliminary question: is the warrant in the record?

I couldn't find it.

David C. Frederick:

The warrant itself is lodged by respondent in the brief in opposition.

There was a lodging made by respondent.

It's at lodging number F.--

Thank you.

David C. Frederick:

--And it is lodged with the clerk.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

And another preliminary matter.

Do you accept the notion that the Fourth Amendment does impose some kind of restraints on the amount of force that officers can use in effecting a no-knock entry?

David C. Frederick:

Yes, Justice O'Connor.

The two questions are distinct, in our view.

If the officers have reasonable suspicion to forego knocking and announcing, they may use the force reasonably necessary to effectuate the entry.

A case of excessive or wholly needless property damage would be assessed under a reasonableness standard that took into account whether or not it was actually reasonable to go through the door or to go through the window, or to engage in some other property damage.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Another preliminary question.

Assume probable cause.

This case is the same with or without the warrant, is it not, or is that incorrect?

David C. Frederick:

With or without probable cause to make--

Anthony M. Kennedy:

No, no.

Assume that it's probable cause.

David C. Frederick:

--Yes, to conduct the search or--

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Your argument here would be the same if there were no warrant but the police had probable cause, would it not?

David C. Frederick:

--Our answer is the same with respect to the no-knock clause of the warrant, Justice Kennedy, if that is what your question is getting at.

The officers here had probable cause to search the premises.