Ky. lawmakers to consider bill curtailing 'no-knock' warrants

The bipartisan bill creates new procedures and requirements for issuance of warrants

By Jack Brammer
Lexington Herald-Leader

FRANKFORT, Ky. —No-knock search warrants like the one involved in the police shooting death last March of Breonna Taylor in Louisville would be curtailed under legislation filed Monday in the Kentucky General Assembly with bipartisan support.

Senate Bill 4, sponsored by Senate President Robert Stivers, R- Manchester, would effectively ban police use of most no-knock search warrants in the state. No-knock warrants allow police officers to enter a home without knocking or ringing a bell.

In a Jan. 7, 2020 file photo, Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, calls the Senate to order during he opening day of the Ky. State Legislature in Frankfort, Ky.
In a Jan. 7, 2020 file photo, Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, calls the Senate to order during he opening day of the Ky. State Legislature in Frankfort, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

Stivers did not respond Tuesday to questions about Senate Bill 4 but he said last July that Breonna Taylor's death "would have never taken place" if such a law had been on the books.

He was referring to the 26-year-old Black woman and emergency medical technician who was fatally shot by Louisville police officers as they executed a no-knock search warrant on her apartment. Her death sparked rallies and protests for racial injustice in Kentucky and across the nation.

The four-page bill is co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Reginald Thomas of Lexington and two Republicans with police experience — Danny Carroll of Paducah and John Schickel of Union. It has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill basically creates procedures and requirements for issuance of warrants authorizing police entry without notice.

It says a court could not issue a warrant unless it had "clear and convincing evidence" that the alleged crime would qualify a person, if convicted, as a violent offender and that lives might be put in danger or evidence destroyed if prior notice is given.

Police seeking the warrant would have to obtain approval of their supervising officer or the highest ranking officer in the agency and consult with the commonwealth's attorney or county attorney.

Police seeking the warrant would have to disclose to the judge any other attempt to obtain a warrant authorizing entry without notice.

A judge would have to carefully review any application for a warrant "as a neutral and detached magistrate." Failure to do so may be referred to the Judicial Conduct Commission.

No-knock warrants could only be used between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. except if the court finds circumstances that are risks to the health and safety of persons executing the warrant, occupants of the premises or the public.

The warrant can be issued electronically or with the legibly printed name and signature of the judge.

Warrants could only be executed only by law enforcement officers who are members of a special weapons and tactics team or special response team with training in warrants. They must be equipped with body-worn cameras and must record the execution of the warrant.

State Rep. Attica Scott, D- Louisville, filed legislation in this year's General Assembly on Jan. 5 to ban no-knock warrants but it has not been moving.

"Why was it necessary for this new bill to be filed when I already had one waiting to go?" she asked Tuesday. Asked if she could support SB 4, Scott said, "The question is whether Sen. Stivers can support mine, House Bill 21?"

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R- Bowling Green, also has filed legislation to require federal law-enforcement officers to give notice of their authority and purpose before entering a residence. It also would ban the use of such warrants by state and local law enforcement agencies that receive federal dollars.

Attorney General Daniel Cameron has set up a special task force to examine the process for securing, reviewing, and executing search warrants in Kentucky.

Last year, Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton issued a moratorium on no-knock warrants, less than five days after Louisville banned the controversial practice outright.

Lexington Police Chief Lawrence Weathers had said no-knock warrants, which require a judge's signature, have not been used in Lexington in more than a year. Weathers announced in early June no-knock warrants would go through an additional level of review before a warrant went to a judge for sign off.

NEXT: Justifying a no-knock entry

(c)2021 the Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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