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June 08, 2007

Never mind!

Here's the checklist for the Annapolis Police's raid, conducted on an apartment by 12 to 15 masked and armed officers:

  • Break down door? CHECK!

  • Set off percussion grenade? CHECK!

  • Kick occupant in the groin? CHECK!

  • Make sure you have the right apartment? Hmmmm, wait a minute...
I wish I could report that this didn't really happen, but it did.

In a classic understatement, the Baltimore Sun described the Salvadoran couple in the apartment as "startled" when police broke in. Rivaling the Sun's understatement is this one from the mayor of Annapolis:
"I do know there was a mistake. That is not good," said Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer.
Unfortunately, these botched raids really do happen, and often it's through innocent mistakes. But it certainly wasn't a good day to be the spokesman for the Annapolis Police.
"We don't know how the mistake was made," said Officer Hal Dalton, city police spokesman.

"Something went wrong in the briefing before the operation.

Regrettably it happens, not very often to us, but it happens."
Dalton said that the warrant "was factually correct," but since the address where the raid took place was wrong, I have to assume this means that either the police misread the correct address on the warrant, or they simply went into the wrong building.

I'm not quite sure which is stranger: the fact that the Sun article is accompanied by a photo of the broken-down door or the fact that it's graced by an ad for Ryan Homes.

UPDATE (6/10): For some reason, this made an impression on me when I read about it 20 years ago in an article by Lyle Denniston.

The Supreme Court decided a case called Maryland v. Garrison, in 1987, in which Baltimore police had obtained a warrant to search the third floor apartment at a particular address for marijuana. When they arrived, they found out that there were two apartments on the third floor, and realized they were searching the wrong one. But while they were there, they had discovered marijuana in the apartment. The Maryland Court of Appeals reversed the conviction of the resident of the wrong apartment on the ground that the search was illegal.

At oral argument in the Supreme Court, defense counsel was answering a series of questions about why it was necessary to throw out the conviction in a case like this. The justice asking the questions is not identified in the transcript, but my recollection, having read about the argument way back when, is that it was Justice Scalia, and the context supports that.

Defense counsel, a rather brash sort, did something I wouldn't recommend to appellate advocates. Read this excerpt from the transcript:
MR. KROOP: That is true. I am not arguing the facts. I am not saying that the police didn't act reasonably. I think they did, as far as what was in front of them.

QUESTION: Mr. Kroop, it is no big deal in this case. I mean, we are just talking about a little bit of marijuana, right, but --

MR. KROOP: Well, no.

QUESTION: -- your argument would be the same had they found -- had they found in walking into the wrong apartment, which they thought was the right one, they are behaving properly, and they find a murderer there, the same thing would be the case. You have to let the fellow go.

MR. KROOP: Absolutely.

QUESTION: You don't want to reward them for their mistake.

MR. KROOP: That's correct.

QUESTION: And therefore you have to turn the murderer loose.

MR. KROOP: That's correct. The Court of Appeals --

QUESTION: Because otherwise you would be rewarding them for their mistake.

MR. KROOP: No, because we want to look out to the future to protect the other people. Sure, one murderer may go free.

QUESTION: You are not protecting anybody. These people are doing all that they possibly could. What are you protecting them from?

MR. KROOP: I don't agree with that. I don't think the police did all they could in this case.

QUESTION: Well, now you are arguing whether it was reasonable or not, but we are assuming it was reasonable.

MR. KROOP: I am saying assuming arguendo it was, I still believe without any equivocation --

QUESTION: Who are you protecting then? They are going to make the same mistake in the future.

MR. KROOP: I am protecting you when you go into your chambers so when the police walk in for a warrant for Chief Justice Rehnquist they don't bungle into yours by mistake.
I'm sure he thought he was being funny with that last quip, but I'm also sure it fell completely flat.