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When should police be allowed to use ‘no-knock’ search warrants?

Utah lawmaker wants to set limits on “no-knock” warrants

Before serving a search warrant in Tooele ICAC officers don bullet proof vests.
Before serving a search warrant in Tooele, ICAC officers don bullet proof vests on April 14, 2007. New proposed legislation would require Utah police officers to knock and demand admission to a home multiple times when executing a search warrant.
Mike Terry, Deseret News

Utah police officers would be required to knock and demand admission to a home multiple times when executing a search warrant if a proposed piece of legislation is signed into law.

HB124, sponsored by Rep. Matthew Gwynn, R-Farr West, would also require that officers audibly identify themselves and allows departments to use controversial “no-knock” warrants only when there is “reasonable suspicion to believe exigent circumstances exist due to the physical safety of an officer or individual.”

“This is an inherently dangerous job and we will never be completely safe,” said Gwynn, who serves as Roy’s police chief in addition to his legislative role. “We’ll certainly do what we can to be more safe, and I think this bill strikes a balance.”

The bill is very similar to one former GOP Rep. Craig Hall, of West Valley City, sponsored last year, which ultimately failed in committee. Gwynn said he agreed to sponsor the revised version after Hall was selected by Gov. Spencer Cox to fill a court vacancy. Former Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, worked on rewriting the bill for this session before accepting a post with the state health department last month.

The new bill doesn’t include explicit time periods officers must observe before entering a home, but it does specify certain steps they must take. It also raises the bar for approving no-knock warrants — officers must demonstrate that less invasive methods would be inadequate to detain the suspect or would be dangerous to officers or bystanders.

No-knock warrants would also be limited to “daytime” hours between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., unless officers had “sufficient grounds” to request a nighttime search.

As is currently the case, judges would have final say in issuing warrants. The bill would simply lay out a standard of practice for police departments and courts to follow, Gwynn said.

No-knock warrants became a topic of national conversation after Breonna Taylor was shot eight times by police executing a search warrant in Louisville, Kentucky in March 2020. Taylor’s death — along with the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota — sparked protests in Salt Lake City and around the nation.

It also highlighted the danger of no-knock warrants, both to home occupants as well as officers.

No-knock warrants are legal in some form across most of the U.S. Oregon, Florida and Virginia are the only states that ban the practice.

Utah passed a bill in 2015 that banned such warrants when an individual is only under suspicion of drug possession. HB124 would ban no-knock warrants when investigating misdemeanor crimes.

Gwynn said he believes there are instances where police would be justified in using no-knock warrants and leaves judges with the power to rule on a case-by-case basis.

“There are times where knocking and announcing could be more dangerous than otherwise,” he said. “We want to leave the Legislature out of that because there’s nothing we can do ... that is going to encompass all scenarios. There is no way we as a Legislature could fathom incorporating every circumstance into code and expecting law enforcement to respond to that in kind.”

The Utah Attorney General’s office supports the bill, Gwynn said, but it’s too early to tell if there will be opposition from those who think it goes too far — or not far enough.

“I’m not naive to believe that it’s not going to have its detractors because I’m sure it will,” he said. “I guess that remains to be seen.”