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What Are No-Knock Warrants? Are They Legal?

Shortly after midnight, on March 13, 2020, police officers broke into the Louisville, Kentucky, home of Breonna Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, unannounced. The police were executing a no-knock warrant, which allowed them to enter and search the private residence without immediate prior notification (i.e., announcing themselves as police, ringing the doorbell, knocking, etc.).

When Walker heard the intruders coming in, he grabbed his gun and fired, hitting one officer in the leg. More than 20 police-fired bullets ripped through the apartment, striking Taylor several times. Breonna Taylor, 26, died in her home shortly after the raid. No drugs or contraband were recovered.  

The tragedy of Taylor’s death (along with a rash of other police-related deaths) stirred the public into action during the summer of 2020. Crowds of people gathered across the country in protest of police brutality and impunity. And in the wake of Taylor’s death, a spotlight on the veracity of no-knock warrants endures.

Below, the Denver defense lawyers from Wolf Law take a closer look at no-knock warrants in Colorado and how they impact a defense.

What Are No-Knock Warrants and Are They Legal in Colorado?

No-knock warrants are issued by a judge when it’s believed that a police announcement would likely result in the destruction of evidence or danger to officers or occupants. No-knock warrants are often used in investigations involving drugs or weapons.

No-knock warrants are legal in the state of Colorado…but not if you live in Aurora.

Aurora is the first Colorado city to ban the no-knock policy. The councilmember who made the proposal, Angela Lawson, says it was inspired by the death of Breonna Taylor.

The measure bans Aurora Police from entering a property without first identifying themselves as law enforcement officers.

“No-knock actions are a recipe for an armed confrontation that is going to result in serious physical injury or loss of life,” says Mark Silverstein, legal director of the ACLU of Colorado.

In a recent interview, Silverstein also points out that no-knock warrants contradict Colorado’s 1985 Make My Day law, which permits a homeowner to use lethal force on an intruder in self-defense.

There are reportedly 20,000 or more no-knock raids in the U.S. annually. These raids disproportionately impact people and communities of color.

According to reports, since 2018, judges have issued 10 no-knock warrants in the city of Aurora.

Those who oppose the new measure believe it endangers the lives of SWAT officers by limiting the element of surprise. For example, no-knock warrants are often used to investigate drug crimes, and if they’re given prior notice, suspects can quickly flush drugs down a toilet.

Knock-Notice Procedures in Colorado

Police officers are required to knock and announce themselves, then wait before forcibly entering a private residence in Colorado. This procedure originates from the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Unfortunately, courts are lenient when it comes to how officers execute the knock-and-announce rule. In fact, even if the occupants don’t hear the announcement, so long as the officers say they took reasonable measures to do it, it’s likely to satisfy a judge.

In theory, even if police have a legal warrant to search a property, they must still announce themselves and their purpose.

What’s more, a warrant must specifically define the location being searched and the property being seized. Officers must also prove that they have probable cause to request the warrant.

In the event of a warrantless entry into a person’s home, it’s presumed the entry is unreasonable, unless the state can prove otherwise…

Legally speaking, there are three common ways the state can justify a warrantless entry into a person’s private residence:

  1. Consent – it’s legal in Colorado for a police officer to knock on a door and request entry. If the homeowner/occupant says it’s okay to enter, the officer may legally enter.
  2. Probable cause and urgent circumstances – urgent circumstances might include a fleeing suspect or an immediate threat of evidence destruction.
  3. A life-threatening emergency – this includes threats to law enforcement and/or dwelling occupants.

The Bottom Line…

Should the police ever come to your home, it’s advantageous to know your rights! If the officers don’t have a warrant, you have no obligation to let them in.

Furthermore, it may be best to leave the door closed if police show up. Should the officers see or smell something incriminating with the door open (i.e., in plain view), this could easily satisfy probable cause to enter.

In addition to providing accurate and detailed resources to our Denver-area community, Wolf Law provides aggressive legal representation to individuals facing a wide range of criminal charges. More importantly, we help balance the scales of justice by holding law enforcement officers accountable for their actions.Learn more about Wolf Law—‘like’ our criminal defense firm on Facebook for legal news, Court TV commentary, and much more!