NEW YORK - Forget the ongoing privacy debate over U.S. government spying on telephone conversations--soon you may not have the right to tell cops to wait until you open your door.
In a case involving a private citizen and police authorities of the Midwestern state of Michigan, a team of civil rights lawyers appeared before the Supreme Court this week to challenge the police practice of storming into homes to look for whatever they want as evidence of a crime.
The case was brought before the Court last year by Booker Hudson, a resident of the industrial city of Detroit. Hudson says he was arrested by several police officers after they broke into his home without any warning.
Hudson was found guilty of possession of a small quantity of cocaine (found in the pocket of trousers), which led him to serve 18 months of probation, as sentenced by a judge at a local court.
Hudson challenged the verdict and took his case all the way to the Michigan State Supreme Court, arguing that that the evidence used against him by the police was found in violation of his constitutional rights.
The court, however, rejected his plea last year in January.
Hudson's lawyers argued that police had no right to enter his home without knocking at the door and announcing their presence, which is a requirement under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
"It is undisputed that the police violated the Fourth Amendment by barging into Hudson's home," says David Moran, a law professor at Wayne State University, who appeared before the Supreme Court Monday on Hudson's behalf.
The fourth amendment states that, "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated." It also notes that warrants shall only be issued once authorities have established "probable cause" and described the people, places, and things to be searched and seized.
In a 1995 Supreme Court opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas stressed that the "knock and announce" rule that Hudson's case rests upon protects the dignity of residents by allowing them a reasonable time to make themselves presentable before the police enter.
The rule also protects private property by allowing residents to open doors, rather than having them destroyed by a police battering ram, Thomas said, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who filed an amicus brief in the case last September.
Hudson wants the Supreme Court to reverse the Michigan court's ruling, which embraced the argument that had the search been conducted legally, the evidence against him would have been found anyway. Under this reasoning, Hudson's lawyers say, police would have no incentive to avoid unconstitutional shortcuts--like failing to get a warrant or simply barging into homes--when looking for evidence.
Moran and other lawyers representing Hudson say they are hopeful that the Supreme Court will decide the case in their favor by ordering the suppression of evidence against their client.
"There is a good reason for the 'knock and announce' requirement," says Kary Moss, another lawyer affiliated with the ACLU. "The Court has always placed a higher priority on the rights of people within their homes."
"Michigan's practice has made it too easy to completely disregard those rights," he adds. "We urge the Supreme Court to not allow policy to violate those rights with impunity."
And Hudson's case is not the only one of its kind.
Moran, who has taken up several other similar cases, says the issue of the police transgressing their powers in search of criminal evidence is being disputed in courtrooms across the country.
"This is a frequently occurring issue," Moran told OneWorld. "This must be stopped."
In recent years, a number of rights advocacy groups, including the U.K.-based Amnesty International and the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, have documented hundreds of cases of police abuse and brutality.
Research shows that in most cases, the poor and minorities are the ones who suffer from police abuse.
While some courts have embraced the Michigan's Supreme Court's position, a number of state and circuit courts of appeal have ruled in favor of the "knock and announce" requirement, according to the ACLU.
The Supreme Court is expected to make its judgment on Hudson's case in June.
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