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SC Supreme Court puts temporary block on no-knock warrants

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The S.C. Supreme Court ordered a temporary ban on no-knock search warrants statewide late Friday afternoon.

The moratorium will remain in place until circuit and summary court judges across the state get further instruction on the criteria for issuing the controversial warrants. 

"Magistrates issue the majority of search warrants in South Carolina," according to the high court's announcement. "A recent survey of magistrates revealed that most do not understand the gravity of no-knock warrants and do not discern the heightened requirements for issuing a no-knock warrant."

No-knock warrants allow officers to enter a residence, business or other building they need to search without knocking first to announce their presence. 

They are used in situations where it's believed that making themselves known will result in evidence being destroyed or lives put in danger. 

The practice has come under intense scrutiny in recent years, most recently after Louisville, Ky., officers fatally shot 26-year-old Breonna Taylor in her apartment in March. 

The Supreme Court's order went on to say that it appeared no-knock search warrants were "routinely issued upon request without further inquiry."

The moratorium is unlikely to significantly impact law enforcement operations in Charleston. 

Police Chief Luther Reynolds said his department rarely employs no-knock warrants.

The chief said he believes it's important to respect the opinion of Chief Justice Donald Beatty and of the Supreme Court, and that the pause on issuing such warrants is an opportunity to ensure consistency in an important part of the criminal justice system.

"No-knock search warrants are not in use by the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office," said Capt. Roger Antonio, a spokesman for the agency. "They were rarely executed by deputies, and it’s been several years, maybe decades, since they were last utilized."

While in use, deputies were required to justify the need for such a warrant to their commanders, Antonio said. If approved, the deputy would then have to state the need for such a warrant in an affidavit presented to a magistrate for approval. 

At one time, no-knock warrants served a purpose in helping ensure deputy safety and preservation of evidence, he said.

But technological advances and changes to enforcement procedures mean that such warrants are not used by the Sheriff's Office anymore, Antonio said. 

Reach Gregory Yee at 843-937-5908. Follow him on Twitter @GregoryYYee.