Commonwealth v. Wagstaff
2006 PA Super 312, ____ A.2d ____
Decided: November 6, 2006
The Superior Court affirmed the suppression of narcotics found pursuant to a search warrant, because when officers served the warrant they failed to state their purpose during the knock and announce.
On September 30, 2004, Philadelphia police officers executed a search warrant of a residence for narcotics. The officers knocked and announced their presence, waited approximately 35-40 seconds, and then forcefully made entry into the residence, while announcing “police” all the time. The officers located the Appellee in an upstairs bedroom. As they entered the room announcing that they were the police, the Appellee reached for a floorboard. Subsequently, numerous packets of crack cocaine were recovered from this floorboard. Also confiscated was $1,571 found in a shoebox and a digital scale. The Appellee was charged with possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance, and criminal conspiracy. The Appellee moved to suppress the evidence against him on the basis that the officers improperly executed the warrant by failing to wait a reasonable time after announcing their presence before making forcible entry. The trial court granted the motion. The Commonwealth appealed.
The rule in Pennsylvania is that an officer may forcibly enter premises when not admitted by an occupant only after knocking, announcing, and waiting a reasonable time. The officers must announce their identity and their purpose. What is reasonable is a case-by-case analysis based upon the information available to the police at that time. It is irrelevant what the occupants knew or believed at that time. The purposes of the knock and announce rule are to prevent violence and injury to police and occupants, to eliminate the occupant’s expectation of privacy, and to prevent property damage from forced entry.
However, four exceptions to the knock and announce rule exist: 1) the occupants remain silent after repeated knocking and announcing; 2) the police are certain that the occupants of the premises already know their purpose; 3) the police have reason to believe that an announcement prior to entry would imperil their safety; and 4) the police have reason to believe that evidence is about to be destroyed. Consequently, if any of these exceptions are met, the police may forcibly enter without knocking, announcing, or waiting for the occupant to respond.
Here, officers announced their identity, but failed to announce their purpose. Further, none of the other exceptions apply. The Commonwealth argued only that the possibility of the destruction of evidence should excuse the officers’ conduct.
The Superior Court disagreed stating the that Commonwealth’s argument would create an undesirable presumption that exigent circumstances sufficient to do away with the knock and announce requirement would exist any time a search warrant for drugs is conducted.