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Home  >  Topics  >  Legal

March 27, 2007
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Senate panels tightens no-knock warrant requirements

By Greg Bluestein
ASSOCIATED PRESS

ATLANTA, Ga. - A state Senate panel voted Thursday to tighten rules on how police in Georgia can obtain "no-knock" warrants, approving a measure that was prompted by a shootout that left an elderly woman dead after plainclothes officers stormed her home unannounced.

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved changes that require police officers to meet a stiffer standard to get the special warrants, which are intended to prevent suspects from getting rid of evidence and to protect officers from potentially violent suspects.

Critics say the warrants are sometimes abused by police, who currently must prove to a judge that there's "reasonable suspicion" before granted the power to enter a home without knocking first.

The measure would require them to prove a "probable cause," a standard that's one step higher in Georgia criminal law.

Powerful police groups opposed the measure, arguing that departments should impose their own standards and that necessary warrants could become harder to obtain under the stiffer standard.

"Every citizen ought to be safe and secure in their own home," said state Sen. Vincent Fort, the Atlanta Democrat who wrote the bill. "There's no higher right."

His measure was prompted by a Nov. 21 shootout between Kathryn Johnston and three Atlanta police officers during a no-knock search for drugs in her northwest Atlanta home. Johnston was killed and three officers were wounded. Authorities said Johnston was 88; her family said she was 92.

The shooting has brought renewed scrutiny to the police use of no-knock warrants, which are typically used to search for drugs and weapons. An Associated Press review of all no-knock warrants filed in Atlanta's Fulton County last year found that authorities often give scant detail when applying for the warrants.

Powerful police groups opposed the measure, arguing that departments should impose their own standards and that necessary warrants could become harder to obtain under the stiffer standard.

"Sometimes you just don't have that type of evidence - especially when dealing with drug dealers and gang members," said Fayetteville Police Chief Steven Heaton.

The Georgia Sheriffs' Association urged lawmakers not to make a hasty decision.

"It's an officer's safety issue and a safety issue for other occupants that may be in a dwelling," said Terry Norris, the group's director. "I just don't feel like - and the sheriffs don't feel like - there's a need for the legislation."

The arguments failed to sway members of the Republican-controlled committee, which described it as a property rights issue.

"No-knock warrants are about as great an abrogation of the privacy of the home as you can get," said Sen. Seth Harp, R-Midland. "We need for people to be protected in their homes."



 






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