Courts in both Florida and Michigan have admitted that the dangerous early-morning raids conducted by SWAT teams searching for cannabis were completely unwarranted, and the overeager actions of the officers involved made their searches illegal.
In one case in Florida, Collier County Sheriff’s Deputies arrived at the home of Juan Falcon before 7 a.m. and within 20 seconds of knocking on the front door and announcing themselves, they broke down the door with a battering ram and threw two flash bang grenades inside the house. As a report from Reason noted, the purpose of the raid was to gain access to two dozen cannabis plants that were reportedly growing in Falcon’s backyard.
Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal ruled that the methods the officers used to obtain those cannabis plants violated the state’s law on “knock-and-announce” searches. In a unanimous decision from the three-judge panel, Judge Susan Rothstein-Youakim noted that when the deputies conducted the raid, they were aware that Falcon lived in the home with his family, which included his two children.
Rothstein-Youakim also pointed to the fact that the six deputies involved used extreme methods, even though Falcon had no record of a violent criminal history, and police had no reason to believe he was armed and dangerous.
“At just past 6:45 a.m. on April 9, 2014, a SWAT unit of at least six heavily armed deputies appeared on the front doorstep of Falcon’s residence to execute a search warrant. Less than an hour earlier, the deputies had all been briefed on the fact that Falcon lived in the residence with his family, which included an adolescent son and a teenage daughter. Notwithstanding the nature of the suspected offense, the deputies had no reason to believe that there were any weapons in the residence or that Falcon was armed and dangerous; his criminal history consisted of one arrest for driving under the influence. The deputies also had no reason to believe that Falcon knew that they were coming, that anyone inside the residence was at risk of harm, or that Falcon or his family might try to escape or destroy evidence.”
Rothstein-Youakim concluded that the deputies violated Florida’s “knock-and-announce” law when they chose to “knock, announce their authority and purpose, and then enter with such haste that the occupant does not have a reasonable opportunity to respond.”
The Michigan Supreme Court came to a similar verdict after narcotics officers in Kent County conducted early-morning raids without warrants at the homes of two men who were suspected of possessing cannabis-infused butter. Officers raided Michael Frederick’s home at 4 a.m. and Todd Van Doorne’s home at 5:30 a.m.
Both suspects were employed as corrections officers by the Kent County Sheriff’s Department, and while the narcotics officers who initiated the raids insisted that they were carrying out “Knock and Talk” interactions—which do not require warrants—the state’s higher court found otherwise.
In a unanimous decision, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that “the scope of the implied license to approach a house and knock is time-sensitive,” and the officers should not have entered the homes at such early hours when they knew the suspects would likely be asleep.
The court also noted that because the officers conducted the raids at such early hours, with no warrants, they clearly violated Frederick and Van Doorne’s Fourth Amendment Rights:
“In these cases, the police officers exceeded the scope of the implied license to knock and talk because the officers approached defendants’ respective homes without warrants during the predawn hours; therefore, the officers trespassed on Fourth-Amendment-protected property. And because the officers trespassed while seeking information about defendants’ alleged possession of marijuana butter, they performed searches in violation of the Fourth Amendment.”
Kent County Circuit Court Judge Dennis Leiber agreed with the court and ruled last week that the cannabis-infused butter the officers discovered cannot be used against the suspects because the officers committed Fourth Amendment violations in order to obtain it.
As The Free Thought Project has documented on numerous occasions, SWAT teams across the country have used early-morning raids to intimidate disoriented citizens, as they use dangerous and extreme tactics to search for a plant. In one recent case in Pennsylvania, a SWAT team raided a home and held an innocent family at gunpoint—all because they believed the family’s hibiscus was actually cannabis.