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Court Gives Police Victory in Waiting Time

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12/02/2003 11:55:30 EST

John Locher/AP Photo

Court Gives Police Victory in Waiting Time
Associated Press Writer

In a victory for law officers, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously
Tuesday that
it was constitutional for police to wait 20 seconds before knocking
down the door
of a drug suspect.

LaShawn Banks was taking a shower when masked and heavily armed
officers broke
into his Las Vegas apartment in 1998 looking for drugs.

His case gave the court the opportunity to clarify how long police
must wait
before breaking into a home to serve a warrant. The court ruled 9-0
that a 20
second delay was ample, because any longer would give drug suspects
time to flush
evidence down the toilet.

The justices refused, however, to spell out exactly how long is
reasonable in
executing warrants for drugs or other contraband.

Officers knocked and announced themselves at Banks' apartment, then
waited 15
seconds to 20 seconds before using a battering ram to break down the

Justice David H. Souter, writing for the court, said that because
police believed
there were drugs inside, officers had more reason to rush.

"Police seeking a stolen piano may be able to spend more time to make
sure they
really need the battering ram," Souter wrote.

He said while "this call is a close one, we think that after 15 or 20
without a response, police could fairly suspect that cocaine would be
gone if
they were reticent any longer."

Smart drug dealers, he said, would keep their contraband near a
commode or sink.

The Supreme Court has said that in most cases officers are required to
knock and
announce themselves, under the Constitution's Fourth Amendment ban on
unreasonable searches.

In Tuesday's ruling, Souter said that generally courts have considered
police moved too hastily "case by case, largely avoiding categories
and protocols
for searches."

The Las Vegas police and federal officers found 11 ounces of crack
cocaine and
three guns during the raid. Banks served four years of an 11-year
prison sentence
before his conviction was overturned.

Justices reversed the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in
Banks' favor.

The appeals court had said that officers should wait "a significant
amount of
time" before making a nonforced entry, and a "more substantial amount
of time"
between knock and entry if property would be destroyed.

Souter said that the appeals court was wrong to set up a multipart
scheme for
reviewing knock-and-announce cases.

The case is United States v. Banks, 02-473.
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