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DOJ Announces Policy on Chokeholds and ‘No-Knock’ Entries

The Department of Justice (DOJ) yesterday announced written department-wide policies explicitly prohibiting the use of “chokeholds” and  “carotid restraints” unless deadly force is authorized, and limiting the circumstances in which the department’s federal law enforcement components are authorized to use unannounced entries.

The announcement follows a review with the department’s law enforcement agencies led by Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco.

“Building trust and confidence between law enforcement and the public we serve is central to our mission at the Justice Department,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “The limitations implemented today on the use of ‘chokeholds,’ ‘carotid restraints,’ and ‘no-knock’ warrants, combined with our recent expansion of body-worn cameras to DOJ’s federal agents, are among the important steps the department is taking to improve law enforcement safety and accountability.”

“As members of federal law enforcement, we have a shared obligation to lead by example in a way that engenders the trust and confidence of the communities we serve,” said Deputy Attorney General Monaco. “It is essential that law enforcement across the Department of Justice adhere to a single set of standards when it comes to ‘chokeholds,’ ‘carotid restraints,’ and ‘no-knock’ entries. This new policy does just that and limits the circumstances in which these techniques can be used.”

Under the new policy, the department’s law enforcement components will be prohibited from using “chokeholds” and “carotid restraints” unless deadly force is authorized, that is “when the officer has a reasonable belief that the subject of such force poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the officer or to another person.”

Federal agents are generally required to “knock and announce” their identity, authority and purpose, and demand to enter before entry is made to execute a warrant in a private dwelling. However, there are some circumstances where unannounced entries are authorized.

The new policy generally limits the use of “no knock” entries in connection with the execution of a warrant to situations where an agent has reasonable grounds to believe that knocking and announcing the agent’s presence would create an imminent threat of physical violence to the agent and/or another person. This new policy is narrower than what is permitted by law.

The policy does recognize, however, that there may be rare circumstances when there is justification – other than physical safety – to execute a “no knock” entry.  If an exception is sought when there is no imminent threat of physical safety, the agent must first get approval from the head of the law enforcement component and the U.S. Attorney or relevant Assistant Attorney General before seeking judicial authorization for a “no knock” warrant.

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