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District of Columbia v. Mancouso

August 02, 2001

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, APPELLANT
v.
BARBARA MANCOUSO AND DION WILLS, APPELLEES



Before Steadman, Glickman and Washington, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Steadman, Associate Judge

Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (Hon. Robert I. Richter, Trial Judge)

Argued January 25, 2001

The police, executing a search warrant, entered the house where appellees reside without complying with the "knock and announce" requirement of D.C. Code § 23-524(a) (1996 Repl.). Neither appellee was inside the house at the time but both were in the immediate vicinity and within "earshot" and "eyeshot," had the police complied with the statute. The principal issue before us in this pretrial government appeal is whether the trial court was correct in ruling that the appellees had standing to seek the suppression of the evidence seized in the house. Surprisingly, this appears to be an issue of nationwide first impression. We affirm the trial court's grant of the suppression motion.

I.

On June 18, 1999, police went to the appellees' residence at 130 Thomas Street, N.W., to execute a search warrant based on an undercover agent's recent purchase of drugs at that address. *fn1 Officers entered the house through the front door as another officer stood watch by the back door. A third resident of the house, Dennis Sallas, was seated on the front steps of the house and testified that he saw the police go directly into the house through the closed but unlocked front door without pausing to knock or announce. At that time, appellee Wills was washing his car near the house, as an assisting officer observed, and appellee Mancouso was directly across the street. Wills and Mancouso were arrested when police recovered an unregistered pistol and related ammunition inside the house. *fn2 The trial court credited Sallas's version of the basic events, finding: "There was no knock and announce, [] they just walked in the door . . . . We just know they didn't stop to knock and they just walked in." *fn3 The trial court also found that both appellants were within earshot and eyeshot of the front door and that "they were in a position to respond if they had heard the police knocking and announcing." Accordingly, while recognizing the absence of authority squarely on point one way or the other, the court concluded that in the circumstances "there is a purpose in having the knock and announce apply" to appellees. Hence, they had standing to raise the motion to suppress, which the court granted.

II.

In executing search warrants, District police must comply with D.C. Code § 23-524(a), which states: "An officer executing a warrant directing a search of a dwelling house or other building or a vehicle shall execute such warrant in accordance with section 3109 of Title 18, United States Code." That federal statute provides that "[t]he officer may break open any outer or inner door or window of a house, or any part of a house, or anything therein, if, after notice of his authority and purpose he is refused admittance." *fn4 The requirement embodied in these provisions is often referred to as the "knock-and-announce" rule or principle. See, e.g., Coleman v. United States, 728 A.2d 1230 (D.C. 1999) cert. denied 528 U.S. 909 (1999) and cases cited. *fn5

The Supreme Court has indicated that the origin of the knock-and-announce rule may be traced as far back as a statute enacted in 1275, which itself was "but an affirmance of the common law," Wilson v. Arkansas, 514 U.S. 927, 932 n. 2 (1995) (citations omitted); see also Sabbath v. United States, 391 U.S. 585 (1968). This common-law "knock-and-announce" principle extant at the time of the framing of the Constitution "forms a part of the reasonableness inquiry under the Fourth Amendment." Wilson, 514 U.S. at 929. It has become established in our jurisdiction that evidence obtained where the statute has not been complied with and where no exception applies may be suppressed on motion by a defendant with standing to challenge the violation. *fn6 West v. United States, 710 A.2d 866 (D.C. 1998); Griffin v. United States, 618 A.2d 114 (D.C. 1992). See Miller v. United States, 357 U.S. 301 (1958).

The standing of appellees is the key issue here. The government argues that since the appellees were not actually inside the house at the time of entry, they have no standing to complain about any violation of the knock and announce statute. It has indeed been suggested that police are not required to comply with the knock and announce statute where doing so would be a "useless gesture." Miller v. United States, supra, 357 U.S. at 310. This principle has been applied in cases where the house was empty at the time of entry. United States v. Hawkins, 243 F. Supp. 429, 432 (E.D. Tenn. 1965); New Jersey v. Bilancio, 724 A.2d 278, 284 (N.J. Super. App. 1999); Wisconsin v. Moslavac, 602 N.W.2d 150, 154 (Wis. App. 1999); Van Allen v. Florida, 454 So.2d 49, 51 (Fla. App. (4th Dist.) 1999). Likewise, a resident absent from his home at the time of entry has been held to have no right to complain about the failure to comply with the statute. See Mena v. Simi Valley, 226 F.3d 1031, 1035 n.2 (9th Cir. 2000); United States v. Valencia-Roldan, 893 F.2d 1080, 1081 n.1 (9th Cir. 1990); State v. Johnson, 716 P.2d 1006, 1010 (Alaska Ct. App. 1986); State v. Papineau, 705 P.2d 949 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1985); Righter v. Delaware, 704 A.2d 262 (Del. 1997). *fn7 All of these cases, however, involve owners or residents who were far distant from the premises at the time of entry. In contrast, appellees here were within earshot and eyeshot of their home at the time of the entry and in a position to respond, although not physically within the dwelling itself.

We have found no cases involving this precise situation. We therefore turn to an examination of the purposes underlying the knock and announce principle to determine whether any protected interests of appellees fall within those purposes.

In our case law, we have recognized at least three purposes that underlie the knock-and-announce requirement:

(1) it reduces the potential for violence to both the police officers and the occupants of the house ...


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