General Assembly Finally Approves ‘No Knock’ Warrants Ban

Council members pass an ordinance to allow data sharing despite public outcry

By Brian Carlton

October 16, 2020

Bill’s final version restructures how police serve warrants in Virginia.

RICHMOND-By this time next week, ‘no knock’ warrants will be banned in Virginia. The General Assembly agreed Wednesday night on a final version of HB5099, making a few changes before voting along party lines and sending it to the governor. 

Under the final bill, law enforcement officers have to clearly state who they are when serving a warrant. That means giving their name and the agency they work for. They also must be identifiable so that anyone recognizes them as police. Once inside the house, they have to read the warrant and give a copy to the homeowner. 

Beyond that, there would be a time constraint. 

“[The warrant] shall be executed only in the daytime unless a judge or magistrate, if a judge is not available, authorizes the execution of such search warrant at another time,” the bill states. 

The final version also gets specific with a timeframe. Unless officers convince a judge otherwise, officers have to go out between 8 am and 5 pm to serve a search warrant.

Now let’s be clear: we said search warrants. This does not change anything for arrest warrants. There is an interesting exemption, however. If a search warrant is for “the withdrawal of blood,” the time limit doesn’t apply, according to the bill. 

 If you’re wondering about that last part, think about DUI arrests. Officers need a signed search warrant in order to get a blood sample in those cases. 

If officers don’t follow the procedures outlined in the bill, any evidence seized will be inadmissible. Very clearly, the bill states “any evidence obtained from a search warrant in violation of this subsection shall not be admitted into evidence for the Commonwealth in any prosecution.”

Departments rarely use the practice

Virginia law enforcement rarely use the practice now. In the Aug. 26 meeting of the House Courts of Justice Committee, the group heard testimony from Wayne Huggins. Huggins serves as executive director for the Virginia State Police Association. 

“This is a technique that is used extremely rarely, at least for the state police,” Huggins said on Aug. 26. “In my years as superintendent of state police, I can’t recall an instance that we used the no-knock warrant. At least in the case of the state police, for our folks, the only time we would ever consider using such a technique is if we felt there was a life in jeopardy.”

That was why Del. Lachrecse Aird (D-Petersburg), the bill’s creator, felt this would be one of the easiest of the police reforms to get through. 

“I went into this session really looking at this legislation innocently as a common sense bill,” Aird said. “To my surprise, it became an issue where it got lumped in with reforms that were claimed to be ‘anti-police.’”

That was the argument over the last two months. Republicans in the House and Senate claimed the bill would handicap police. Democrats meanwhile said it would help police and residents to feel more secure. 

Part of the debate focused on Breonna Taylor’s death. Police officers in Louisville, KY killed Taylor in March when executing a warrant. She was asleep in bed when police broke down the door. Her boyfriend, believing these plainclothes officers were robbers, opened fire. The officers fired back and ended up killing Taylor. 

“What happened to her is tragic,” Aird said. “So many people feel let down by the case and the justice they feel like is not being served. But here, in this case, her life is literally making a difference.” 

Where did ‘no knock’ come from? 

Virginia is now one of several states banning the practice. In most cases, law enforcement officers have to announce their presence before entering. The Supreme Court made this clear in the 1958 case Miller vs. United States. But the federal government stepped in and made an exception in the 1970s, arguing that “an earlier version of the “24-hour drug search” statute, 21 U.S.C. § 879, allowed officers to enter homes without announcing their presence, if they were searching for drugs. By 1974, however, Congress scrapped the practice. A Senate amendment to an appropriations bill repealed it. 

The no knock concept didn’t stay dead for long, as Congress revived it in the 1980s as part of the war on drugs. While it’s hard to trace all cases from the ‘80s until now, a look at records from 1999 to 2020 show 16 controversial events involving no knock warrants and at least 40 deaths, including police and civilians.

Brian Carlton is Dogwood’s managing editor. He can be reached at [email protected].

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