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Monday, September 25, 2006

Ban the no-knock

Reason makes a case against the legal home invasion:

In 2000 drug cops in Modesto, California, accidentally shot 11-year-old Alberto Sepulveda in the back of the head at point-blank range during a botched raid on the boy’s home. In 2003 police in New York City raided the home of 57-year-old city worker Alberta Spruill based on a bad tip from an informant. The terrified Spruill had a heart attack and died at the scene. Last year Baltimore County police shot and killed Cheryl Lynn Noel, a churchgoing wife and mother, during a no-knock raid on her home after finding some marijuana seeds while sifting through the family’s trash.

There are dozens more examples. And a botched raid needn’t end in death to do harm. It’s hard to get a firm grip on just how often it happens—police tend to be reluctant to track their mistakes, and victims can be squeamish about coming forward—but a 20-year review of press accounts, court cases, and Kraska’s research suggests that each year there are at least dozens, perhaps hundreds, of “wrong door” raids. And even when everything goes right, it’s overkill to use what is essentially an urban warfare unit to apprehend a nonviolent drug suspect.

Criminal charges against police officers who accidentally kill innocent people in these raids are rare. Prosecutors almost always determine that the violent, confrontational nature of the raids and the split-second decisions made while conducting them demand that police be given a great deal of discretion. Yet it’s the policy of using volatile forced-entry raids to serve routine drug warrants that creates those circumstances in the first place.

Worse, prosecutors are much less inclined to take circumstances into account when it comes to pressing charges against civilians who make similar mistakes. When civilians who are innocent or who have no history of violence defend their homes during a mistaken raid, they have about a one in two chance of facing criminal charges if a policeman is killed or injured. When convicted, they’ve received sentences ranging from probation to life in prison to, in Maye’s case, the death penalty.

I'd like to see a law passed that would guarantee the following:

1. Any civilian defending an erroneously targeted home shall be immune to all criminal prosecution for all of his actions relating to the no-knock raid.

2. Any police officer guilty of injuring an innocent civilian will be suspended from the force for a year. Any police officer responsible for "accidentally" killing a civilian in a no-knock raid will be removed from the force, lose 50 percent of his pension and be charged with a crime ranging from manslaughter to murder one depending on the circumstances..

3. The individual responsible for ordering the no-knock raid will be jailed for twenty years to life.

I bet we'll see far fewer lethal accidents with such civilian protections in place. The worst thing is that all of this indefensible authoritarian activity is in defense of the idiotic drug war.

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