In 2001, I wrote a letter to this newspaper suggesting that the Kentucky law pertaining to home defense be amended. At that time, the law required the owner or legal occupant of a dwelling to present evidence to show that his killing of an intruder was based on a fear that the intruder intended to cause death or serious injury to the occupants. If the occupant could not, he would be charged with manslaughter.
I suggested the law be changed to create a "rebuttable presumption" that the person who forcibly and illegally enters an occupied dwelling intends to cause serious bodily harm to the occupants. In doing this, the law would remove the burden from the legal occupant to justify the killing and place it on the intruder's representatives to justify the break-in.
The National Rifle Association has used this argument to persuade lawmakers in Kentucky and 28 other states to adopt laws referred to as the "castle doctrine." An outgrowth of that doctrine is what has become known as the "stand your ground" laws.
Kentucky has provided certain exceptions in its law. One applies to police officers who enter under a warrant. Before 1960, it was almost unheard of for officers to force their way into a home. With the proliferation of illegal drugs in the country today, it is commonplace for law-enforcement officers to enter homes in this way to ensure evidence is preserved. The ideal way for traffickers to dispose of drugs is to flush them down the toilet. That is why a quick entrance is required to prevent this action.
The law says that the exception provided to police officers exists where "the officer identified himself or herself in accordance with any applicable law." The only "applicable law" that now exists for police when they forcibly enter a dwelling is that provided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Since the beginning of the republic, the law pertaining to forcible entries by police was that the officer must knock, identify himself or herself and state why police are there and wait a reasonable amount of time before entering. With drug cases now being the main reason for forcible break-ins by police, the law with regard to the "Knock and Announce" rule has changed.
The Supreme Court, in Richards v. Wisconsin, in 1997, held that in certain instances a "no-knock" warrant could be obtained. Since that time, most warrants obtained have been no-knock. There also has been a corresponding increase in the number of innocent persons accidently injured or killed by police officers executing no-knock warrants.
The Supreme Court did the police and the public no service when it failed to prescribe specific rules for when and how these warrants should be used. While most casualties under these warrants have been civilians, some have been police officers.
Guidelines are needed. I propose that anytime a law enforcement officer forcibly enters an occupied dwelling, whether under a regular or no-knock search or arrest warrant, he or she shall:
At the most prominent entryway, and while entering the dwelling, immediately activate a device producing sounds similar to those commonly used by police sirens and that is capable of being heard throughout the dwelling by any occupant, while at the same time announcing in a loud voice the word "police."
If a window of the dwelling faces an area outside where a vehicle can be parked, simultaneously place, if possible, a clearly marked police cruiser with siren and warning lights activated there until said structure has been fully secured.
By implementing these proposals, the legislature could significantly reduce injuries to citizens and police officers while allowing citizens to protect themselves, their families and their property from lawbreakers.