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S. 3955: Justice for Breonna Taylor Act


Is the practice an effective law enforcement technique, or a privacy-violating maneuver that has resulted in innocent deaths?

Context

26-year-old emergency room technician Breonna Taylor was at home after midnight on March 13, when Louisville police entered her apartment unannounced. Police were looking for a suspected drug dealer who was using Taylor’s address to receive packages that law enforcement believed contained drugs. The suspected drug dealer wasn’t at Taylor’s home, though he was arrested elsewhere later that same day.

Police had obtained a so-called “no-knock warrant” from local judge Mary Shaw, though it’s unclear whether police in fact knocked or announced their presence in some form before entering. The police claim they knocked; Taylor’s family claim they didn’t. Either way, this much is clear: police entered her home, her boyfriend Kenneth Walker grabbed a gun for which he had a permit and fired, police returned fire, and Taylor died after getting shot at least eight times. (Walker survived.)

Since then, Taylor’s name has been one of the most frequently-referenced names in recent protests over police brutality and misconduct.

What the bill does

The Justice for Breonna Taylor Act would ban no-knock warrants on a nationwide level.

Florida and Oregon are the only two states that ban no-knock warrants statewide, though more are now considering it as the topic has garnered headlines. Several cities have recently banned the practice, including Louisville last week and Houston last year.

It was introduced in the Senate on June 11 as bill number S. 3955, by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that no-knock warrants are morally wrong by violating privacy, have been too often misused, and have led to innocent people’s deaths.

“After talking with Breonna Taylor’s family, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s long past time to get rid of no-knock warrants,” Sen. Paul said in a press release. “This bill will effectively end no-knock raids in the United States.”

“No one should lose their life in pursuit of a crime without a victim, and ‘no-knock’ warrants should be forbidden,” Sen. Paul added to the Louisville Courier-Journal. “Let’s hope the investigation provides justice.”

“Our action tonight sets an example for other cities to follow,” Louisville Metro Council President David James said after the council voted unanimously to ban no-knock warrants. “This council is saying the time has come right a wrong, a wrong of more than 400 years. I am proud that we are first in justice for all.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that no-knock warrants should be used sparingly and ideally with no loss of life, but that they can be a valuable element for police departments.

“No-knock warrants do have a place in an agency’s toolkit, but you have to know when and how to best apply them,” National Tactical Officers Association Executive Director Thor Eells told NBC News. “And the manner in which that is done is usually through good training, having good policies and procedures in place and ensuring that the people who are making those decisions are well trained.”

The practice has also been upheld by the Supreme Court since the 1963 decision Ker v. California. While some subsequent court decisions have placed limitations on the practice, it’s never been found unconstitutional.

“Even if probable cause exists for the arrest of a person within, the Fourth Amendment is violated by an unannounced police intrusion into a private home, with or without an arrest warrant,” the court’s unanimous opinion written by Tom C. Clark said. However, the court granted three exceptions, one of which was “where those within, made aware of the presence of someone outside (because, for example, there has been a knock at the door), are then engaged in activity which justifies the officers in the belief that an escape or the destruction of evidence is being attempted.”

Odds of passage

This specific Senate bill has not yet attracted any cosponsors. It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

However, a provision to ban certain types of warrants is included in House Democrats’ broader police reform bill titled the Justice in Policing Act, which was introduced last week. That larger bill currently has 213 Democratic cosponsors, though no Republicans. The lead sponsor of this standalone legislation, Rand Paul, is a Republican.

Last updated Jun 17, 2020. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jun 11, 2020.


Justice for Breonna Taylor Act

This bill prohibits no-knock warrants, which generally permit law enforcement officers to enter a premises without first identifying their authority and purpose.

Specifically, it requires federal law enforcement officers to provide notice of their authority and purpose before executing a warrant. State and local law enforcement agencies that receive funds from the Department of Justice must execute warrants that require the serving officer to provide notice of his or her authority and purpose before forcibly entering a premises.