Arizona courts launch task force to look into no-knock warrants

A task force in Arizona will study no-knock and nighttime search warrants after the death of a Black woman in Kentucky led to changes nationwide on how warrants are issued for law enforcement.

Breonna Taylor, 26, was shot and killed by Louisville police in March 2020 during a drug search that went wrong. She was unarmed. Her death led Kentucky to pass a bill restricting the use of no-knock warrants and similar moves by other states.

On Wednesday, Chief Justice Robert Brutinel of the Arizona Supreme Court issued an administrative order creating a task force to look into search warrants. The task force, composed of lawyers, judges, professors and law enforcement officials from across the state, will study the process of how no-knock and nighttime search warrants are being issued.

In a statement, Brutinel said the administrative order is a part of the court’s ongoing efforts to maintain the public’s trust and confidence and improve fairness and justice in the state’s judicial system.

“The Court brought its Commission on Minorities and Arizona Judicial Council together to explore specific, high-impact steps Arizona could take to improve access to justice and racial justice in Arizona’s courts,” the judge said. “The task forces formed by the administrative orders are two of the suggested initiatives from that meeting.”

Supreme Court Justice Clint Bolick will lead the 19-member panel, which includes judges, prosecutors, a police chief, and defense attorneys. It is ordered to submit its recommendations by Oct. 21.

No-knock warrants in Arizona

No-knock warrants allow law enforcement officers to enter a location without knocking and announcing their presence. Virginia banned no-knock warrants in December, making it the third state to do so.

Oregon and Florida already ban the type of warrant. According to a report by The Associated Press, Breonna Taylor’s family praised Virginia’s move and stated they hope others would “get on board.”

The new task force for the Arizona Supreme Court will provide recommendations to ensure there are safeguards in place and address the training of judicial officers. Recommendations could also include proposed amendments to Arizona court rules and statutes.

Judges and law enforcement officers have told the court that these types of warrants are rarely issued in Arizona, according to Aaron Nash, spokesperson for the Arizona Supreme Court. Some counties may issue a warrant once or twice a year. However, the court still believes it is important to develop best practices for such warrants.

Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone told The Republic that judicial review and increased requirements are responsible actions by the courts. “No-knock warrants have inherent dangers and in specific circumstances offer tactical benefits,” he said. “They should be highly scrutinized and limited in application.”

Arizona lawmakers have made moves on limiting the use of no-knock warrants. Rep. Alma Hernandez, D-Tucson, sponsored a proposal that would limit a judge’s ability to issue them to law enforcement. It originally proposed a ban on no-knock warrants, but an amendment was adopted. The amended proposal allows judges to issue the warrants if a case meets certain criteria. Those criteria include the seriousness of the charges, whether it involves weapons or gang activity, and the suspect’s documented potential for violence.

Armando Nava, president-elect for the Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, spoke at one of the hearings for the proposal. He will serve as a task force member.

There have been cases across country where no-knock warrants have been served violently, and on the wrong people and locations. According to Nava, they can cause death and financial consequences to innocent civilians.

“We want to make sure that innocent people in Arizona are not subjected to that kind of government violence,” he said. “We need to take a serious look at how people are both executing these warrants and how the courts are
permitting the police to do so.”

In 2011, Pima County SWAT officers shot and killed a U.S. Marine while serving a warrant in connection with a marijuana trafficking investigation. Jose Guereña, 26, was awakened by his wife, who told him intruders were trying to break into their home. Guereña armed himself while his wife and 4-year-old son hid in a closet. Officers said they shot him because they believed he fired upon them. However, an investigation determined he didn’t fire his weapon and it had its safety on. No drugs were found in the home.