Yesterday a grand jury in Kentucky refused to charge the officers who killed Breonna Taylor. This result was both lawful and deeply unjust. Let me explain why.
In August, I wrote an extended newsletter called “Supreme Court Precedent Killed Breonna Taylor.” It was a bold headline and a bold claim, but both were justified. The court’s precedent had created the legal cover for police tactics that placed police and lawfully armed citizens on a violent collision course—one that has resulted in tragic deaths before, and (unless the law is changed) will result in tragic deaths again.
I don’t want to rehash the entire argument, but the essence is this: In a series of opinions reaching back more than two decades, the Supreme Court has permitted the use of no-knock police raids not just to preserve life, but also to preserve evidence. It has also granted officers specific legal privileges even when they’ve violated citizens’ constitutional rights, including, a) exemptions from the exclusionary rule (which blocks the use of unlawfully obtained evidence in criminal trials) for raids that violate knock-and-announce requirements and, b) exemptions from attempts to impose heightened obligations for the use of force when officers are violating the Fourth Amendment by unlawfully intruding in a citizen’s own home.
Police departments across the country have taken advantage of this wide latitude. They’ve sought no-knock warrants liberally. They’ve blurred the line between no-knock and knock-and-announce with “quick knock” practices. And they’ve engaged in surprise, late-night violent entries into private dwellings for the sole purpose of preserving evidence.