Massachusetts State Police Promise Higher Standard For No-Knock Warrants; Immediately Break It

from the promising-change,-delivering-soundbites dept

No-knock warrants may have served a purpose when they first became a thing. It's not as though law enforcement's fear of evidence disappearing or a violent reaction to warrant service is completely unjustified. But no-knock warrants are being deployed extremely frequently, becoming the preferred method of warrant service any time drug sales are involved. The warrant requests are supposed to be subjected to a higher standard of review, but it's devolved to the point where officers are requesting no-knock warrants simply because the residence they're searching has locking doors and working toilets.

Now, cops and citizens are being killed or injured unnecessarily, simply because the SWAT team's armored personnel carrier seems like a waste of money if it's not deployed every six weeks or so. The higher standard is practically nonexistent, replaced by "upon information and belief" statements that work backwards from the desired form of warrant service.

Over in Massachusetts, state police pledged to hold themselves to a higher no-knock warrant standard after a botched raid of the wrong residence led to a civil rights lawsuit. The department said it would bring its no-knock requests directly to a judge, rather than whatever court clerk happened to be on hand when the request was made.

One year later, the state police appear to have made no changes at all, according to the Worcester Telegram's investigation.

[A] T&G review of no-knock warrants in all 10 courts in Worcester County shows that of the 10 no-knock warrants issued to state police since 2016, only one was reviewed by a judge.

Brendan T. Keenan, first assistant clerk-magistrate in Worcester’s Central District Court, said last week he was never asked to accommodate the change.

“I read that in the paper,” he said of the pledge. “That’s the only place I heard it.”

Clerk-magistrates in Fitchburg and Leominster, the only other two courts that have issued no-knock warrants to state police since 2016, said they also had never been asked to kick the warrants up to a judge.

The higher standard the police promised ended up being no standard at all. And no standard at all is standard practice for many law enforcement agencies. The only defense offered for the department's reneging on its judicial review standard is… well, it's terrible. Apparently, going in-house is just as stringent as placing a no-knock warrant app in the hands of an impartial judge.

“There is a heightened sense of review on these types of warrants now,” Col. McKeon said April 15, noting all warrants are forwarded to the district attorney’s office for review.

There are very few prosecutors willing to turn down law enforcement requests. If anyone thinks a review by the DA's office is somehow more stringent than a clerk-magistrate's cursory glance, they probably work in a law enforcement agency's PR department.

Clerks may have the word "magistrate" appended to their titles, but don't let that fool you into thinking they're only a small step down from actual judges.

Nine of the 10 no-knock warrants examined by the T&G were signed by assistant clerk-magistrates; in six of the cases, that person had no law degree.

A former judge with 16 years of experience says he knows why cops are bringing no-knock warrants to clerks: because judges will give warrant requests more scrutiny.

"This is the day-to-day bread and water of judges,” said Mr. Borenstein, adding that it is not unusual for police to eschew judicial review.

“There have been major studies done over the years, and one consistent thing about the studies is that police like to avoid judges,” he said. “They’d rather go to magistrates.”

The police maintain the promise they broke still makes the entire process perfectly legal. As they see it -- in unofficial statements made in response to the investigation -- going to clerks gives officers more flexibility. The lack of judicial rigor is supposedly offset by the list of internal policy requirements cops must follow when obtaining no-knock warrants, which includes performing zero due diligence before asking a clerk for their autograph.

There are no requirements that police conduct surveillance on a home or determine whether children live there prior to serving a no-knock warrant.

And in two of the cases examined, the no-knock warrants were used to seize marijuana -- even as the state was holding a referendum to legalize personal possession and use. In other words, a drug that citizens felt could be safely legalized was treated as a threat so severe that warrant service could only be handled with a maximum amount of surprise and force.

Because of its unwillingness to voluntarily subject itself to higher standards, the Massachusetts State Police is setting itself up to be the recipient of additional civil rights and wrongful death lawsuits. It could have taken the small extra step to ensure no-knock warrants were subjected to a bit more judicial scrutiny, but obviously preferred to do things the old way. The easier way. The way that got the department sued.

That's the real "standard" of law enforcement: the bare minimum. As defenders of the practice point out in the Telegram piece, running no-knock warrants past assistant clerk-magistrates rather than judges is "legally sufficient." It's not better for cops or better for citizens. It's nothing more than ticking just enough boxes to avoid being punished by other arms of the state government.


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  • identicon
    David, 10 May 2017 @ 1:59pm

    The new no-knock warrant rules are simple:

    Don't knock it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2017 @ 2:06pm

    No-knock Warrants Do Have a Problem

    They're called knock-on effects.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 10 May 2017 @ 3:11pm

    Knock, knock
    Who's there?
    Massachusetts State Police!
    Don't be silly - the Massachusetts State Police doesn't knock.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 11 May 2017 @ 5:11am

      Re:

      So how would it go if it was MA Police? I'll risk it

      *almost inaudible footsteps in the darker hours of dawn*
      *sudden cacophony of doors being opened by force, windows getting broken, flashbang grenades being thrown in toddler cradles and tear gas canisters flying, rifles firing*

      Police: ...

      Later in the day.

      Police: we managed to avert the threat of dangerous marijuana users and seized a whole 10 grams of weed! We are so awesome!
      Reporter: What about the 3 dead including a kid, the burnt baby, the destroyed house and the few million dollars spent in mobilizing the SWAT and in spent ammunition?
      Police: COLLATERAL DAMAGE. Nothing to see here, move along.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2017 @ 3:35pm

    aka: breaking and entering

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kronomex, 10 May 2017 @ 3:44pm

    They'll just burst in through the windows or rip the roof off the house instead. After the house falls down they can point at the untouched doors and congratulate themselves on keeping them safe and unharmed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2017 @ 4:44pm

    Legalizing personal use weed has no relationship to gang members with pounds of drugs for sale.

    Nice try.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2017 @ 5:22pm

      Re:

      It actually directly impacts that scenario. Once it is legal, the gang members will no longer find it profitable to have pounds of it to sell.

      Nice try.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2017 @ 6:38pm

        Re: Re:

        oh, that rabbit hole goes MUCH deeper:
        with out the ILLEGAL DRUGS, there would be no cop/judge bribes (oh, pollyanna, you REALLY don't think that happens ? you are in for a life of disappointments...), not to mention banksters propping up their house of cards with laundered drug money...
        .
        THAT is one reason why The They want to keep drugs illegal, has NOTHING to do with 'public health and safety', and is ALL about keeping that filthy lucre pouring in to the banksters/etc claws...
        guess what ?
        the kind is made legal, oops, there goes all the banksters free money... (oops, there go all the liquor companies profits, too)
        THAT is why The They want to prevent that (too late, that ship done sailed), AND/OR, are going to wrap up all the legal dispensaries, etc, they will fuck you over that way...
        (EXACTLY why so many state laws won't allow you to grow your own...)
        it is ALL a scam, has NOTHING to do with 'protecting' anyone but banksters ill-gotten gains...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2017 @ 10:55pm

        Re: Re:

        Oddly not the case so far in legal weed states.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2017 @ 6:40am

        Re: Re:

        In addition, once legal, the private prison industry will not have all those cells filled.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2017 @ 6:48pm

      Re:

      My_Name_Here just hates it when due process is enforced.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2017 @ 1:29am

    Let's not get too relaxed about this please

    In the 1990's, I was "served" with a no knock warrant.

    There I was, sitting behind my kitchen counter, running a FidoNet BBS, minding my own business.

    I get a shout of "FREEZE OR BE SHOT" shout, the front door is battered down, and I see three people in black masks, guns drawn and pointed at me.

    Well, it was a bad neighborhood. So bad, that I had a 12 gauge shot gun strapped to the legs of the kitchen table pointed toward the front door. I reached down, took up the slack in the trigger, slid off the safety, and was about to add that last ounce of pressure to fire.

    That's when I noticed that one, count 'em - ONE - person had "POLICE" on their vest.

    I raised my hands over my head.

    Didn't help much. I don't remember much other than being slammed into the wall (broken nose, four broken ribs, broken ziometric arch on the left eye), some kidney punches, and being read my rights.

    "Mr. So and so do you understand these rights!?"
    "Yes."
    "Do you have anything to say?"
    "Yes. I'm not Mr. So and so."
    "YEAH RIGHT!"

    After getting my ID out of my wallet, two supervisors, and many hours later, I finally got a ride to the hospital. Which I had to pay for myself. As well as the treatment.

    Oh, when I got back home, my apartment had been picked over. Broken front door. I never did find out what happened to that shot gun. It was but one of the many things missing.

    Turns out that the guy the police were looking for was someone that rented my apartment two years ago, and moved out 18 months prior.

    I'm sure no knock warrants have their place. I'm just not sure it is in the United States. Not if we are supposed to be a "free" country.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 11 May 2017 @ 5:43am

      Re: Let's not get too relaxed about this please

      I'm sure no knock warrants have their place. I'm just not sure it is in the United States. Not if we are supposed to be a "free" country.

      You aren't. A free country is distinguished by the steps it is willing to take and particularly not to take in the face of a perceived or actual danger.

      The U.S. has refrained from choosing "free" over (pseudo-)"secure" in any decision-making for decades.

      There is a constitution guaranteeing a number of freedoms but it is overruled by "exigent circumstances" and "executive privilege" and "state of war" (all in straight contradiction to the rules set out in the Constitution itself) routinely and consequently is not the highest law of the land.

      In the last decades, the presiding U.S. presidents have ordered thousands of extrajudicial internments and assassinations of U.S. citizens and foreigners alike.

      The constitution is only heeded where convenient.

      The U.S. is not even supposed to be a free country any more.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2017 @ 7:46am

      Re: Let's not get too relaxed about this please

      I hope you SUED and got a big pile of money over that!!!

      I thought Warrants had to be signed by a judge? So any clerk can sign off on one? That's just crazy and even worse for a so called No-Knock warrant. That seems unconstitutional.

      The War on drugs needs to end. So all for Pro Choice and murdering unborn baby's because what you do to your own body is on you. But Drugs? Somehow doing drugs on your own body, NO, we're going to tell you want to do. All drugs should just be legalized. Do to yourself what you want. Prices drop on the drugs, the Gangs go away along with the drug cartels. There's no money in it for them. Free everyone in jail for drugs and empty out the prisons. Only real criminals should be in them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    cynoclast (profile), 11 May 2017 @ 1:47pm

    4th amendment

    "This is the day-to-day bread and water of judges,” said Mr. Borenstein, adding that it is not unusual for police to eschew judicial review.

    How is that not a flagrant violation of the 4th amendment, which reads:

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    In other words, no Judge issue Warrant, on probable cause of a specific crime means no fucking search is constitutional.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      The Wanderer (profile), 11 May 2017 @ 8:18pm

      Re: 4th amendment

      Does the Fourth Amendment specify that only a judge can issue a warrant?

      If so, I don't see it in the text you quoted.

      The thrust of that aspect of the article, as I read it, was not saying that the police are engaging in searches without warrants - only that the warrants they are getting are not from judges, but from magistrates, who are less inclined (and possibly less able) to scrutinize the warrant requests for validity.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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