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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2021 - 2022 Regular Session


Posted: December 8, 2020 01:19 PM
From: Senator Timothy P. Kearney
To: All Senate members
Subject: Reforming No-Knock Warrant Searches - Breonna's Law
On March 13, 2020, Louisville police executed a no-knock warrant at an apartment suspected of being tied to drug activity. They stormed the home of emergency room technician Breonna Taylor, and opening fire when her boyfriend shot at the unannounced intruders. Breonna was asleep in bed when Louisville police shot her eight times and killed her. To add insult to this egregious act, the suspect they were looking for had already been arrested.

One reason no-knock warrants are so dangerous is that they clash with the basic concept of self-defense. Pennsylvania follows the Castle Doctrine, which allows a person to use deadly force to defend their home against intruders. Allowing police to forcibly invade a home without warning, but also allowing a homeowner to use force to protect themselves, is an invitation for catastrophe for police. 

The risks and consequences of executing a warrant search without knocking are a problem for all states, including Pennsylvania. In 2019, the City of Pittsburgh settled a lawsuit that alleged SWAT officers recklessly broke into a family’s home, which was mistaken for a drug dealer’s apartment. It cost the city $80,000. A 2014 lawsuit, which claimed excessive force was used by police to enter a home and interrogate those within it, was settled by the city for $107,500.
Unannounced warrant searches have left innocent civilians dead or injured, and have left taxpayers to foot the bill for expensive legal settlements. According to a 2014 report by the American Civil Liberties Union, there are 20,000 no-knock warrants issued each year in the United States. This practice regularly occurs in low-income and disproportionately Black neighborhoods, leading frustrated communities to demand solutions after the death of Breonna Taylor.
Legislation to ban the execution of no-knock warrants has been passed by the Louisville’s City Council and introduced on the federal level by U.S. Senator Rand Paul. It is time for Pennsylvania to lead the states and enact similar legislation. I am proposing “Breonna’s Law,” a bill that would specifically provide for the following:
  • Police must physically knock and announce themselves before forcibly entering a home, as well as wait a minimum of 15 seconds or for a reasonable amount of time for the occupants to open the door;
  • All officers will be required to wear body cameras and have their body cameras on and recording when conducting a search, including a minimum of five minutes before and after the operation;
  • Officers must wear clothing that adequately and immediately identifies them as law enforcement officers;
  • Local law enforcement agencies must attend regular training courses to ensure they understand Constitutional standards, as well as up-to-date tactical standards, related to their actions when serving warrants; and
  • Provide for disciplinary actions against police officers if it is found they have violated any provision of these changes.
These reforms are essential steps to reduce unnecessary violence and preventable deaths. Breonna Taylor and so many before her have shown that our policing practices disproportionately hurt Black communities with little accountability for officers’ misconduct. It is imperative Pennsylvania does its part to enact equitable solutions that keep our communities safe and ensure justice for all.
I encourage my colleagues to join me in co-sponsoring this important piece of legislation.

Introduced as SB296