No-knock warrants have been the subject of widespread public outrage and protests since the killing of Breonna Taylor in March 2020 by officers who burst into her home looking for someone who didn’t even live there. She wasn’t the first – or the last – innocent person killed by officers in one of these situations, which are dangerous for everyone involved.
States and cities across the country have been re-examining their own laws regarding no-knock warrants. Late last year, New Jersey’s then-acting attorney general announced a policy that puts some important controls on the use of these warrants, which allow law enforcement officers to enter a location, including a private residence, without first knocking or ringing a doorbell.
How New Jersey no-knock warrants have been limited
The new policy limits the number of warrants issued and who can carry them out. For example:
- To obtain a no-knock warrant, law enforcement agencies must show that there’s “a reasonable and particularized concern for officer safety or the safety of another person.”
- Only county prosecutors or a designated senior staffer can approve sending a no-knock warrant to a judge for signature.
- Only trained tactical teams can execute these warrants.
The new policy also seeks to improve tracking by prosecutors’ offices of how many no-knock warrant applications are received and how many are approved. Such tracking has been limited, so there’s no way of knowing exactly how many of these warrants have gone through the system in the past.
Of course, the most dangerous outcome of a no-knock warrant is that an innocent person who thinks intruders are breaking in and grabs a weapon is injured or killed by officers or injures or kills an officer. The first scenario appears to be what happened in the recent case in Minneapolis in which a young man was killed.
No-knock warrants – particularly when “served” at the wrong address, as sometimes happens – can lead to violent actions by people who may have to make a split-second decision to protect themselves or others. If this has happened to you or a loved one, the stakes are too high not to seek legal guidance.