Editorial: Limit SC Judges Who Can Issue Warrants to Authorize Police Raids | Editorials

There are times when the police need the element of surprise – being able not only to appear without warning, but also to break down a door and enter a house in the middle of the night, with weapons drawn, to prevent a dangerous criminal from harming a hostage, escape or destroy crucial evidence.

That is why the United States Supreme Court allows exceptions to what it calls the “common law principle, knock and announce” in emergencies and when the police anticipate such a situation and obtain a warrant allowing them to invade someone’s home or business without warn.

But the practice is inherently dangerous – for passers-by, innocent targets and police – as the nation was remembered this spring when the police in Louisville, Ky., Police shot and killed Breonna Taylor after breaking into his home in the middle of the night on a search unsuccessful for narcotics. In addition to innocent victims, we saw many cases of super-innocents, victims whose lives were interrupted or even ended after the police knocked the wrong door down.

Supreme Court of SC imposes temporary block on preventive arrest warrants

Clearly, there should be strict limits on when these “no-knock” search and seizure warrants can be issued.

But, as SC Supreme Court President Don Beatty found out, these strict rules do not exist in South Carolina. Our state does not have a written policy on when a judge can authorize a police operation.

Worse, we allow our less educated, less trained and more political judges to issue preventive arrest warrants.

These SC judges may have less training than barbers, but they still decide thousands of cases each year

Worse, Judge Beatty explained, “a recent survey of magistrates has revealed that most do not understand the seriousness of the detonation ban warrants and do not discern the high requirements for issuing a detonation ban warrant.”

Worse than that, he wrote: “Furthermore, it appears that restricted search warrants are routinely issued on request, without further investigation.

So the president of the court did the only thing a responsible officer could do when he realized that such a dangerous tool was being distributed in such a promiscuous way: He issued a moratorium on pre-trial arrest warrants until he can write some criteria.

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An excellent place to start would be to limit the judges who can approve them. Judge Beatty would probably be able to eliminate much of the problem if he prohibited magistrates from issuing warrants. As Joseph Cranney of The Post and Courier reported last year, SC magistrates are handpicked by local senators, often ignore defendants’ basic constitutional rights, do not need to be lawyers and, in fact, have less training required than their counterparts. state barbers or massage therapists.

At a minimum, restricting authority to magistrates trained in law would ensure that the people who authorize police raids are familiar with the constitutional principles that need to be considered.

We have no idea how many warrants are issued in South Carolina; the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office and the Charleston Police Department said they rarely use them, but PBS NewsHour reported last month that a 2010 study estimated that the United States police used 60,000 to 70,000 prohibition warrants. detonation per year.

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Despite these figures, there is no reason to think that a temporary moratorium will endanger innocent lives. Just the opposite. In the absence of any law to the contrary – and there is no contrary law in South Carolina – the US Supreme Court has ruled that the police can invade without notice without the permission of a judge if they have “a reasonable suspicion that they will beat and announce their presence, under the particular circumstances, would be dangerous or futile, or … would inhibit the effective investigation of the crime, for example, allowing the destruction of evidence. ”

The main thing the warrant does is protect the police from civil liability for the destruction they cause when they break down the right doors – and the additional disturbance they cause when they break down the wrong doors. That is, these warrants give the court’s seal of approval for police raids.

Frankly, it would not be a bad idea for our legislature to consider a total ban on pre-trial detention warrants, and perhaps even to place some limits on what kind of evidence is important enough to allow for any kind of police raid. In the meantime, however, it is comforting to know that our courts will not sanction any further police operations until Judge Beatty has a chance to establish some rules.