Law enforcement officers went to the defendant’s home around 2 P.M. with a search warrant for a controlled substance. It was unclear whether anyone was at home at the time. The officers called out “police, search warrant” and knocked on the front door loudly enough to be heard by officers at the back door. The officers waited fifteen to twenty seconds and did not obtain a response. They then broke open the front door and entered the home. The defendant was in the shower and later testified that he heard nothing until the breaking of the door.
Whether the officers waited a reasonable amount of time before forcing entry into the home?
Yes. Reasonableness in the use of force in gaining entry is determined by the “totality of the circumstances.”
The Supreme Court has held that how law enforcement officers go about their search must meet the Fourth Amendment’s reasonableness standard. See Wilson v. Arkansas. The length of time an officer must wait before using force to enter a home with a warrant is determined by the “totality of the circumstances.” The Court stated that it has “consistently eschewed bright-line rules, instead emphasizing the fact-specific nature of the reasonableness inquiry.” There is “no formula for determining reasonableness.”
The Court determined that, under the facts of this case, the officers’ actions of waiting fifteen to twenty seconds before using force was reasonable. The fact that the defendant was in the shower was unknown to the officers and, therefore, immaterial. It is the actions of the officers, based on their knowledge and inferences at the time that the Court examines for reasonableness. The Court noted that in this case the crucial timeframe is not the time it would have taken the defendant to open the door but rather the time it would have taken him to destroy the evidence. After fifteen to twenty seconds, an exigency existed and the officers were justified in using force to gain entry.
NOTE: This opinion does not state law enforcement officers must wait fifteen to twenty seconds before using force with a warrant. The Court’s opinion here is that, under these factors, fifteen to twenty seconds was enough time to wait before using force. A shorter amount of time could have been acceptable to the Court. In other circumstances, a longer period may be required
540 U.S. 31, 124 S. Ct. 521 (2003)