The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill Wednesday that would ban no-knock warrants, which allow police officers — plainclothes or in uniform — to enter a premises unannounced.
The measure was prompted by the death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician who was fatally shot in her Louisville, Ky., apartment during a botched police raid by three plainclothes officers with a no-knock warrant for an alleged drug case last March. Taylor had no criminal record and no drugs were found in her apartment.
Senate Bill 726, introduced by Sen. Stanley Chang (D-Oahu), would require officers exercising search and arrest warrants to be in uniform and announce their presence, waiting 30 seconds before entering a home.
A companion bill, House Bill 1382, was introduced by House Speaker Scott Saiki (D-Oahu).
Among those opposing the measures are the Honolulu Department of the Prosecuting Attorney and the Honolulu and Maui police departments.
Kenneth Lawson, who teaches criminal law at the University of Hawaii’s William S. Richardson School of Law, said he supports the bills and emphasized how dangerous no-knock warrants are to police officers and the public.
“If the police don’t announce who they are and kick in the door, most people are going to think it’s a home invasion,” he said. “Sometimes it’s better to shoot first then ask questions later, rather than wait for someone to kill you.”
That is apparently what happened in the Breonna Taylor case, when her boyfriend fired at the officers, thinking they were intruders, and was wounded in return.
The Honolulu prosecutor’s office submitted testimony saying it was unable to find any statutory authority for no-knock warrants in either the Hawaii Revised Statues or Hawaii Rules of Penal Procedure. “As such, this provision appears to be unnecessary,” the office said.
The testimony also commented that it would be restrictive to require police to wait 30 seconds before entering a premises, and noted concerns about requiring officers to be in uniform when carrying out warrants.
“While we understand the concern about plainclothes officers potentially serving search warrants, we would also note that specialized units such as SWAT occasionally serve warrants in various degrees of tactical gear, such as body armor, reinforced helmets, etc.,” the prosecutor’s office said. “Such gear is … crucial for the officers’ safety, but does not resemble standard-issue police uniforms.”