This is an audio case brief of Richard v. Wisconsin, 520 U.S. 385 (1997). The audio brief provides a full case analysis. However a written summary of the case is provided below.

Table of Contents


On December 31, 1991, police officers in Madison, Wisconsin, obtained a warrant to search Steiney Richards’ motel room for drugs and related paraphernalia. The search warrant was the culmination of an investigation that had uncovered substantial evidence that Richards was one of several individuals dealing drugs out of motel rooms in Madison. The police requested a warrant that would have given advance authorization for a “no-knock” entry into the motel room, but the Magistrate explicitly deleted those portions of the warrant.

The officers arrived at the motel room at 3:40 a.m. Officer Pharo, who was dressed as a maintenance man, led the team. With him were several plainclothes officers and at least one man in uniform. Officer Pharo knocked on Richards’ door and, responding to the query from inside the room, stated that he was a maintenance man. With the chain still on the door, Richards cracked it open.

Although there is some dispute as to what occurred next, Richards acknowledges that when he opened the door he saw the man in uniform standing behind Officer Pharo. He quickly slammed the door closed and, after waiting two or three seconds, the officers began kicking and ramming the door to gain entry to the locked room.

At trial, the officers testified that they identified themselves as police while they were kicking the door in. When they finally did broke into the room, the officers caught Richards trying to escape through the window. They also found cash and cocaine hidden in plastic bags above the bathroom ceiling tiles.

Richards sought to have the evidence from his motel room suppressed on the ground that the officers had failed to knock and announce their presence prior to forcing entry into the room.

The trial court denied the motion, concluding that the officers could gather from Richards’ strange behavior when they first sought entry that he knew they were police officers and that he might try to destroy evidence or to escape. The judge emphasized that the easily disposable nature of the drugs the police were searching for further justified their decision to identify themselves as they crossed the threshold instead of announcing their presence before seeking entry. Richards appealed the decision to the Wisconsin Supreme Court and that court affirmed under a theory that there is a blanket exception to the knock and announce rule in felony drug cases.

The U.S Supreme Court agreed to review the case.


Whether there is a blanket exception to the knock and announce rule in situations involving felony drug cases.


In order to justify a “no-knock” entry, the police must have a reasonable suspicion that knocking and announcing their presence, under the particular circumstances, would be dangerous or futile, or that it would inhibit the effective investigation of the crime by, for example, allowing the destruction of evidence.


The court begun its analysis by explaining that there could no blanket exception to the knock and announce requirement in felony drug cases.

Here is how the court explained its position.

The Wisconsin court explained its blanket exception as necessitated by the special circumstances of today’s drug culture, and the State asserted at oral argument that the blanket exception was reasonable in felony drug cases because of the convergence in a violent and dangerous form of commerce of weapons and the destruction of drugs. But creating exceptions to the knock-and-announce rule based on the “culture” surrounding a general category of criminal behavior presents at least two serious concerns.

First, the exception contains considerable overgeneralization. For example, while drug investigation frequently does pose special risks to officer safety and the preservation of evidence, not every drug investigation will pose these risks to a substantial degree. For example, a search could be conducted at a time when the only individuals present in a residence have no connection with the drug activity and thus will be unlikely to threaten officers or destroy evidence. Or the police could know that the drugs being searched for were of a type or in a location that made them impossible to destroy quickly. In those situations, the asserted governmental interests in preserving evidence and maintaining safety may not outweigh the individual privacy interests intruded upon by a no-knock entry. Wisconsin’s blanket rule impermissibly insulates these cases from judicial review.

A second difficulty with permitting a criminal-category exception to the knock-and-announce requirement is that the reasons for creating an exception in one category can, relatively easily, be applied to others. Armed bank robbers, for example, are, by definition, likely to have weapons, and the fruits of their crime may be destroyed without too much difficulty. If a per se exception were allowed for each category of criminal investigation that included a considerable-albeit hypothetical-risk of danger to officers or destruction of evidence, the knock-and-announce element of the Fourth Amendment’s reasonableness requirement would be meaningless.

Thus, the fact that felony drug investigations may frequently present circumstances warranting a no-knock entry cannot remove from the neutral scrutiny of a reviewing court the reasonableness of the police decision not to knock and announce in a particular case. Instead, in each case, it is the duty of a court confronted with the question to determine whether the facts and circumstances of the particular entry justified dispensing with the knock-and-announce requirement.

In order to justify a “no-knock” entry, the police must have a reasonable suspicion that knocking and announcing their presence, under the particular circumstances, would be dangerous or futile, or that it would inhibit the effective investigation of the crime by, for example, allowing the destruction of evidence.

Although the court disagreed that a blanket exception to the knock and announce rule be created for felony drug cases, the court agreed with the Wisconsin court that the circumstances of this particular case justified an unannounced entry.

Here is how the court explained its position.

Although we reject the Wisconsin court’s blanket exception to the knock-and-announce requirement, we conclude that the officers’ no-knock entry into Richards’ motel room did not violate the Fourth Amendment. We agree with the trial court, and with Justice Abrahamson, that the circumstances in this case show that the officers had a reasonable suspicion that Richards might destroy evidence if given further opportunity to do so.

The judge who heard testimony at Richards’ suppression hearing concluded that it was reasonable for the officers executing the warrant to believe that Richards knew, after opening the door to his motel room the first time, that the men seeking entry to his room were the police. Once the officers reasonably believed that Richards knew who they were, the court concluded, it was reasonable for them to force entry immediately given the disposable nature of the drugs.

At the time the officers obtained the warrant, they did not have evidence sufficient, in the judgment of the Magistrate, to justify a no-knock warrant. Of course, the Magistrate could not have anticipated in every particular the circumstances that would confront the officers when they arrived at Richards’ motel room.These actual circumstances-petitioner’s apparent recognition of the officers, combined with the easily disposable nature of the drugs-justified the officers’ ultimate decision to enter without first announcing their presence and authority.


Although the court rejected the blanket exception to the knock-and-announce requirement for felony drug investigations, the judgment of the Wisconsin Supreme Court is affirmed because the officers had reasonable suspicion that Richard might destroy evidence.

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