Wilson v. Arkansas

LOCATION: South Boston Allied War Veterans Council

DOCKET NO.: 94-5707
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: Arkansas Supreme Court

CITATION: 514 US 927 (1995)
ARGUED: Mar 28, 1995
DECIDED: May 22, 1995

J. Winston Bryant - Argued the cause for the respondent
John Wesley Hall, Jr. - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Michael R. Dreeben - On behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the respondent

Facts of the case

In 1992, Sharlene Wilson sold illicit narcotics to undercover agents of the Arkansas state police. Police officers then applied for and obtained warrants to search Ms. Wilson's home and to arrest her. When the police arrived, they found the main door to Ms. Wilson's house open. The officers opened the unlocked screen door and walked in, identified themselves as police officers, and said that they had a warrant. Ms. Wilson's attorney filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized during the search, claiming it was invalid on the grounds that the officers had failed to "knock and announce" before entering.


Does the Fourth Amendment's reasonable search and seizure clause require police officers to knock and announce their presence before entering a private residence?

Media for Wilson v. Arkansas

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 28, 1995 in Wilson v. Arkansas

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 22, 1995 in Wilson v. Arkansas

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court number 94-5707, Wilson against Arkansas will be announced by Justice Thomas.

Clarence Thomas:

This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Arkansas and it involves a rather simple issue but important issue, and that is, what is a constitutional requirement on police officers if they have a valid warrant appeared in the door, can they enter without knocking and announcing, is there a constitutional requirement to do so?

The petitioner here was convicted on State Law drug charges after the Arkansas and trial court denied her motion to suppress evidence, seized during a search of her residence, which I might add a valid warrant.

Petitioner argued that the search of her home was invalid because the police had violated the common law principle requiring them to announce their presence and authority before entering.

The State Supreme Court affirmed rejecting petitioner's argument that the common law not going to announce principle as required by the Fourth Amendment.

In an opinion filed with the clerk today we reverse.

In evaluating the scope of the constitutional right to be securing one's house, we have looked to the traditional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures afforded by the common law at the time of the framing.

Given the long standing common law endorsement of the practice of announcement, and the wealth of founding-era statutes and cases adopting the knock and announce principle.

We hold that the method of an officer's entry into a dwelling is among the factors to be considered in assessing the reasonableness of a search or seizure.

The common law principle was never stated as an inflexible rule requiring announcement under all circumstances.

Thus, the Fourth Amendment requirement of reasonableness should not be read to mandate a rigid rule of announcement that ignores countervailing law enforcement interest.

In this case, we need not attempt a comprehensive catalogue of the relevant countervailing factors.

For now, we leave to the lower courts the task of determining the circumstances under which an unannounced entry is reasonable.

Respondent here has offered two reasons why the unannounced entry in this case may have been justified, because the State Supreme Court did not address the sufficiency of these justifications however, we remand to allow the state courts to make the determination of reasonableness in the first instance. The opinion is unanimous.