Ohio’s top law enforcement official says there is an “inherent conflict” in state law brewing between the rights of armed homeowners and the sort of “no-knock warrants” that gained renewed infamy this summer after the fatally botched raid and shooting death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky.
“Ohio is now a castle doctrine state. That means people are allowed to use deadly force to defend themselves in their own home,” Ohio Attorney General David Yost said in a virtual press conference.
Yost said that while no-knock raids in Ohio are rare, he urged lawmakers to reform the laws that control the standard of proof officers must bring before a judge before they gain approval for a no-knock warrant.
Currently, Yost said, the standard only requires that officers claim that the subject of the warrant is a “serious” risk of harm to officers.
“That's not really a high enough standard,” Yost said, adding that he was aware of cases where officers obtained no-knock warrants simply by claiming, “there’s a gun in the house.”
When the current state law was written, however, Ohio’s castle doctrine wasn’t on the books.
“There are counties in Ohio where 'There's a gun in the house’ applies to a majority of the houses,” Yost noted. “That doesn’t seem to be enough to warrant the extraordinary remedy to eliminate the 'knock and announce' requirement required in the statute.”
The solution, Yost said, is to raise the standard for obtaining the no-knock warrant. Instead of “serious,” the risk of harm to officers should be “substantial;” further, Yost said the statute should be changed to require that officers show “probable cause” — the same standard for evidence “the constitution requires for the warrant itself.”
Yost outlined several other reforms:
- Unless there are more serious charges at play, cases involving only misdemeanor drug possession and paraphernalia charges “would be insufficient to get a no-knock warrant, at all, ever.”
- Officers executing the warrant should wear “readily identifiable markings” and announce themselves as police “as soon as possible upon entering.”
- “Absent some exigent circumstances, we believe that officers who have body cams ought to be required to wear them” and to activate them on entry.
The changes would have to be implemented through the state legislature. Yost’s announcement came days after Cincinnati’s city solicitor appeared to quash a local effort to address no-knock raids through a city council motion that sought to ban the practice outright. On Tuesday, the solicitor released a legal opinion stating that the council does not have the power to do so.
On Wednesday, Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Seelbach, who sponsored the motion, told WLWT5 that he would alter his proposal from a full ban to one that “really focus(es) on how raids are reformed.”
On Thursday, Yost made a similar distinction between his proposed reforms and the sort of bans that other cities have implemented in the wake of Breonna Taylor’s death in March. Taylor’s case drew national outrage as investigations showed the innocent woman was not a suspect in a narcotics case. Louisville officers failed to use or activate their bodycams when they burst into Taylor’s home, and in the chaos, her boyfriend fired through the door at what he believed to be intruders, while officers returned fire, killing the 26-year-old Taylor.
No officers were charged in connection to Taylor’s death, though one was charged with “wanton endangerment” for firing the bullets that entered a neighboring apartment.
If Yost’s proposals become law, Ohio officers would face a higher standard of proof before they could pull off a similar raid.
“These (reforms) are more nuanced and more surgical than an outright ban,” Yost said, “but it does a better job of balancing the need for law enforcement in cases of serious crimes, to be able to execute search warrants safely against known suspects, and the right of a community to reside peaceably in their homes.”