It's just before 10 AM. You're sitting in your home office, relaxing in your PJs, having a cup of coffee. Your significant other and your 3-month old baby are quietly sleeping down the hall. You just thought to yourself how nice it is to be able to work from home on occasion because it's difficult to tear yourself away on some days then it's back into responding to that important e-mail.
BOOM! What the hell? It sounds like someone just busted in the front door. Holy crap, someone is coming into the house. The sound woke the baby, she's crying. People are swarming my house armed to the teeth with semi-automatic rifles. They're pointing them at you telling you "arms in the air!", "face down on the ground!" You ask, "What is this all about?" All you're told is to "shut up." You really have no idea why the SWAT team is in your house and all you're hoping is that one of these thugs doesn't have an itchy trigger finger.
Sound scary? It could happen to you. It did happen to someone. Just yesterday in Gwinnett County, Georgia.
The cops intended to serve a warrant on a house they'd been staking out for three months. The only problem is that after three months they couldn't remember exactly which house it was. No need to check an address or anything, "I'm pretty sure it was that one."
It wasn't until they discovered the baby that they realized that they were in the wrong house. The door had already been busted in, the frame in splinters. They'd already waved guns in your faces. The damage, both physical and psychological, is done. All they say is "We're sorry. And we'll fix that door for you."
This isn't the first time that police have screwed up royally while serving a no-knock warrant in the metro-Atlanta area. Almost exactly two years ago, in November of 2006, a SWAT team went to the house of little, old lady Kathryn Johnston and did pretty much the same thing late one evening. The difference was that this lady packed an old, rusty revolver because she didn't think the neighborhood was too safe. She fired, not knowing that it was police. They, of course, returned fire effectively ruining Thanksgiving for her family and pretty much any other perfectly law-abiding citizen that values the sanctity of their own home.
It seems that the criminal are catching on to this trend as well. I can't seem to find the article quickly here, but recently it was reported that some home invaders busted in a door somewhere and started yelling that they were the police and instructed the owners to freeze with their hands up!
The element of surprise is effective. The common argument for the preservation of the no-knock warrant is that evidence is not destroyed and the criminal is caught red-handed. However, the element of surprise can also be fatal. Fatal for occupants, such as Kathryn Johnston. And sometimes fatal for the police officers. Since the rules of a no-knock warrant do not require police to announce that they are indeed the police there has been more than one instance where officers were injured or killed. And again, even if they did announce, could you really trust them? They are busting into your house for no particular reason. Who is to say that it's not some burglars pretending to be police? Or maybe it's the police who are there to burglarize.
Who wants to go to prison? That's apparently what you can expect if you were so bold as to defend yourself, your family, and your home. Several officers have been injured or killed while serving a mistaken no-knock warrant. In Kathryn Johnston's case, she paid with her life. In Cory Maye's case, he will pay with his life as well. He just gets to remain alive and in prison for life. That's somehow better than the original death penalty he received.
There has to be a better way.