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Pioneer Editorial: Sanctity of one's home put at risk

Many will say that Thursday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that will allow police to enter homes without knocking as a sign of the new conservatism on the court. But the ruling actually sends mixed signals, as it violates a centuries-old, common-law rule which conservatives have embraced for eons -- protecting the sanctity of one's home.

The 5-4 ruling, in Hudson vs. Michigan, said judges cannot throw out evidence collected by police who have search warrants but do not properly announce their arrival. The so-called "knock-and-announce rule" has been a part of the Constitution's Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches in a host of prior cases, including a 1914 ruling which excludes evidence from trial which is seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

In the Hudson case, Detroit police in 1998 entered Booker Hudson's unlocked home without knocking, and found him with a loaded gun next to him and cocaine rocks in his pocket. Just because police failed to knock should not allow the evidence to be excluded, giving Hudson "a get-out-jail-free card," the court said in a ruling judicial experts say has overruled the announce-and-knock rule, giving police newfound authority to barge into a home without notice.

There is no doubt that we want to give law enforcement all the tools we can to combat crime, but under our system where certain rights are guaranteed by the Constitution, we need to play by the book to ensure fairness for all. The law only works when it works for all of us.

Justice Stephen Breyer, in his dissent, wrote that the ruling "destroys the strongest incentive to comply with the Constitution's knock-and-announce requirement" and "it weakens, perhaps destroys, much of the practical value of the Constitution's knock-and-announce protection."

Breyer cites a 1968 ruling that there "is little doubt that the Framers of the Fourth Amendment thought that the method of an officer's entry into a dwelling was among the factors to be considered in assessing the reasonableness of a search or seizure."

And, in an 1886 ruling, Breyer cites that the Fourth Amendment's prohibitions apply "to all invasions on the part of government and its employees of the sanctity of a man's home and the privacies of life. It is not the breaking of his doors, and the rummaging of his drawers, that constitutes the essence of the offense; but it is the invasion of his indefeasible right of personal security, personal liberty and private property."

People do have a recourse, however, in filing a civil lawsuit. But Breyer notes that the majority opinion "failed to cite a single reported case in which a plaintiff has collected more than nominal damages."

Our constitutional guarantees place high value upon protecting privacy in the home, and Thursday's ruling serves to lessen that value.