Taylor Tragedy: A No-Knock vs. Castle Doctrine Clash

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The Breonna Taylor case illustrates an unresolved conflict in the law. A police tactic meant to keep officers safer — raiding homes late at night, giving occupants little or no warning — can conflict with “castle doctrine” laws giving homeowners leeway to use deadly force against intruders, reports the Washington Post. Taylor’s ex-boyfriend thought police were intruders. He says he fired in self-defense. Police fired back, in self-defense against his self-defense. The result was a tragedy the law won’t punish. “There’s a gunfight, but no one is criminally responsible, as unfortunate and as strange as that sounds” said Northern Kentucky University law Prof. Michael Mannheimer.

To justify a “no-knock” warrant, police told a judge they were investigating Taylor’s ex-boyfriend and thought he was receiving drug packages at her home. They needed to enter without knocking because “these drug traffickers have a history of attempting to destroy evidence.” Under Kentucky’s castle doctrine, residents may use defensive force against someone “forcibly entering” a dwelling.  Once the ex-boyfriend fired, the two officers were justified in firing back, said Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron. Gunfire occurs often during the execution of “no-knock” warrants. In Houston last year, two people were killed and five police officers injured during a no-knock raid. No drugs were found, and police said the warrant was based on an officer’s false information. Many police chiefs have recognized the dangerous conflict between castle-doctrine laws and no-knock warrants and to reduce the use of those warrants, said Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum. Officers usually have other options. They could wait for their subject to leave the house. “Police chiefs are asking themselves, ‘Is it worth it?’ And the answer is no,” Wexler said. “There’s so much risk involved, and there’s another way to accomplish the same thing.”