Weed Watch

Knocking on Woody; and Knock-and-Announce

Rush Limbaugh, the bombastic boob of right-wing talk radio, is at it again, sneaking around with an illegal cache of prescription pills – a possible violation of the sweetheart deal he recently cut with Florida prosecutors in connection with his doctor-shopping OxyContin habit. This time the Rushster was popped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, who found a bottle of Viagra in his luggage after Limbaugh – arriving home to Palm Beach, Fla., fresh from a vay-cay in the Dominican Republic – deplaned a jet owned by the Premiere Radio Network, which carries his show. Customs officers reportedly found the meds in Limbaugh's baggage, but, alas, the scrip was not in Limbaugh's name, and he was detained for questioning for several hours.

His lawyer, Roy Black, told reporters that the Viagra situation was nothing more than a misunderstanding – the pills are his client's, but to protect his privacy, Limbaugh had one doc write the scrip to another doc – lest the news that Limbaugh might be, well, ahem, anything less than virile were to make it into the hands of media gossips. First, Weed Watch finds it less than surprising that Limbaugh might need an ED pill – I mean, hey, the guy is an admitted pain-killer addict, which can't be an asset to the assets. Moreover, Black's explanation is just, well, goofy – who cares if Limbaugh takes Viagra? Still, Limbaugh's lameass explanation could be plausible enough to keep prosecutors from yanking the plea deal he cut in connection with the state of Florida's felonious doctor-shopping case against him. If prosecutors were to yank their sweet deal, Limbaugh would likely face hard time in the pokey.

In other news, the U.S. Supreme Court last month ruled that police violation of the Fourth Amendment's so-called knock-and-announce rule is not, in itself, grounds for suppressing the evidence seized as the result of a consequent search. In the case at issue, Detroit police obtained a warrant to search for drugs and weapons in Booker Hudson's home. The police approached the house, knocked and announced their presence, waited between three and five seconds, then entered through the unlocked front door. Inside, police found crack cocaine and a loaded gun; Hudson was charged with possession of drugs and a firearm. The evidence was thrown out of court, however, after Hudson successfully argued that the evidence seized was the fruit of an illegal search because the police entered his home prematurely, thus violating the Fourth Amendment.

In a majority opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia (joined by John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy, and Samuel Alito) wrote that while there are circumstances under which the suppression of evidence is warranted, a violation of the knock-and-announce rule is not such a circumstance. "Suppression of evidence … has always been our last resort, not our first impulse," Scalia wrote. The Fourth Amendment protects against warrantless search and seizure, but the "interests protected by the knock-and-announce requirement are quite different – and do not include the shielding of potential evidence from the government's eyes. What the knock-and-announce rule has never protected … is one's interest in preventing the government from seeing or taking evidence described in a warrant," he continued. "Since the interests that were violated in this case have nothing to do with the seizure of the evidence," the exclusion of that evidence is inappropriate.

In a stern dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer (joined by John Paul Stevens, David Souter, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg) wrote that the majority opinion dismantles the precedent of a 1995 case (Wilson v. Arkansas) in which a unanimous court ruled that the Fourth Amendment requires a knock-and-announce prior to serving a warrant. To take away that requirement, Breyer opines, is to "destroy the strongest legal incentive to comply with the Constitution's knock-and-announce requirement." In other words, without constitutional ramifications police may now feel less bound to announce their presence at all before executing a warrant – and that's exactly what will happen, argue drug-war foes. "This means forget it – [police are] not going to knock and announce" any more, says Jack Cole, a former New Jersey police narcotics commander who now heads up the drug reform group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "Why would they do that if there are no teeth in the law any more?"

Indeed, the high court's ruling gives police a green light to bust on in without announcing themselves, which could lead to a rise in police-initiated critical incidents, University of Nebraska professor and expert on police accountability issues Samuel Walker told the Drug Reform Coordination Network on June 23. Still, he says, just because Scalia says they can do it, doesn't mean all police will. "Bursting in on people can get you shot; it's a very risky tactic," he said. "There is a tremendous variation in police professionalism, and some departments may have heard a news story and say, 'Yes, now we can do that.' In the better departments, they will study the decision and have some discussion of whether it is proper … some police captains are smarter than Scalia."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Weed Watch, U.S. Supreme Court, Hudson v. Michigan, Antonin Scalia, Stephen Breyer, knock-and-announce, Fourth Amendment, Samuel Walker, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, LEAP, Jack Cole, Rush Limbaugh, Roy Black, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Viagra, Oxycontin, doctor-shopping

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