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Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Kentucky lawmakers approve bill to limit no-knock warrants

Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, presenting Senate Bill 4, a bill to limit the use of no-knock warrants, on the House floor.

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Sometimes tragedy can inspire change for the better.

That was the sentiment shared by Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, on the KY House floor today as he remembered Breonna Taylor, a Louisville EMT who was shot and killed in her apartment during the execution of a search warrant last year.
Senate Bill 4 seeks to create procedures and requirements for the issuance of both search warrants and arrest warrants that authorize law enforcement entry to a property without notice, commonly known as a no-knock search warrant.
Nemes presented SB 4 alongside Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, on behalf of the bill’s primary sponsor, Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester. The bill received unanimous approval from the KY Senate last month and cleared the House by a 92-5 vote today.
Most of the time, law enforcement will notify the occupants of a property before executing a search warrant, but sometimes that does not happen, Nemes said. And while the goal of executing a no-knock warrant is to keep everyone involved safe, that is not always the outcome, he added.
Under SB 4, no-knock warrants would only be allowed to be executed under certain circumstances. One instance would be where someone is believed to be in immediate danger, such as in kidnapping cases. A no-knock warrant would also be allowed to be executed during investigations involving certain violent crimes, terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.
SB 4 also sets guidelines on how officers can obtain no-knock warrants. An officer seeking a no-knock warrant would have to get approval from supervisors and certify the warrant application hadn’t been “shopped,” or the practice of trying to find a receptive judge. The bill would also make clear that an officer’s false statement in a warrant application constitutes felony perjury. And the approving the judge’s signature would have to be legible.
Blanton said any evidence obtained during a no-knock search warrant that was not properly executed under SB 4, would be inadmissible.
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“I would also note that this does not affect… a potential civil liability case against the officer and it doesn’t affect the ability of the agency to terminate the officer,” Nemes added.
The original version of the bill requires the officers who execute the warrant to be members of a special response team. Those officers would also be required to use body-worn cameras throughout the execution of the warrant.
House members amended the bill today to take rural counties into consideration.
Blanton said the amended version of SB 4 allows in counties with less than 90,000 people an exception where the judge can issue a no-knock warrant without the use of a special response team if there is not one available and the judge deems the need to go ahead and execute the warrant.
The amendment also allows these rural counties to use audio recording devices in lieu of body-worn cameras if body-worn cameras are not available.
“The point in that is… not every agency has the funding availability for body cams,” Blanton said. “… What we don’t want to do is have an emergency situation in a rural area where a special response team may not be able to get to in time to execute one of these.”
Another addition to the bill by the House is the requirement of a certified EMT on standby at a safe location close enough to the property where the warrant is being executed in the event of a medical emergency.
“Breonna Taylor might still be alive today had EMTs had been on the premises after she was shot,” said Rep. Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green, who worked on the amendment to the bill.
While some lawmakers said SB 4 is not perfect and does not include everything everyone wanted to see in the bill, many see the legislation as an important step forward.
“I don’t think anybody thinks that this bill is perfect, but I think it is a really good start,” said Minority Whip Rep. Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg.
Rep. Attica Scott, D-Louisville, who filed a bill to end the use of no-knock warrants, said in a statement read on the House floor that she was reluctant to vote in favor of SB 4.
“’I voted yes because daughters like mine deserve a chance to live without wondering if they will be next,’” Scott said in her statement, which was read in the House by Minority Floor Leader Joni L. Jenkins, D-Shively.
Rep. Reginald Meeks, D-Louisville, decided to vote no on SB 4 after expressing he wishes to see the practice of no-knock warrants banned entirely in Kentucky. 
“I would like to have voted for this, but I cannot,” he said. “I cannot go home and talk to my brothers and my sister and say that we’ve done something that is going to save lives.”
Rep. Daniel Elliott, R-Danville, said he supports the bill and thinks it is an important piece of legislation despite some concerns he has about the evidentiary standard set by the bill in order for a judge to consider approving a no-knock warrant.
“It is a step forward that balances personal liberty with the government of keeping people safe,” Elliott said.
The Senate unanimously concurred on the House’s changes, and SB 4 will now go to the governor’s desk for his signature or veto.

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