Entry Without A Warrant When Evidence Is Destroyed

Drug Possession Defense Attorney The United States Supreme Court issued a ruling earlier this week that gives police more latitude to enter a person's home without first obtaining a search warrant. The ruling in Kentucky v. King pertains to an incident that took place in Lexington, Kentucky. Police in Lexington saw what appeared to be a drug deal taking place in a parking lot and chased a suspect into a nearby apartment complex. As they walked by an apartment door, they smelled the aroma of burning marijuana. After they knocked on the door and identified themselves, the officers heard sounds that – given they were in pursuit of someone connected with drugs – suggested to them that drug evidence was being destroyed. They knocked down the door and found a man named Hollis King amidst marijuana, cocaine, and drug paraphernalia. King was arrested, eventually convicted, and sentenced to 11 years in prison for drug trafficking. The Court's decision in Kentucky v. King states that police can enter a home without a warrant if they believe that evidence is being destroyed. They classify this situation as an exigent, or emergency, circumstance that overrides the Fourth Amendment requirement that police obtain a search warrant before entering a person's home. The Court did state, however, that police entry without a warrant only applies as long as police do not create an exigent circumstance "by engaging or threatening to engage in conduct that violates the Fourth Amendment." The Court contended that King could have taken actions that would have prevented his arrest, such as remaining silent and not responding to the police officers' knocks or coming to the door and stating that he did not consent to the officers entering his apartment. Instead, he tried to destroy the evidence, giving the officers the means to come in without a warrant. The only dissenting vote was cast by Justice Ginsburg, who wrote that the majority's ruling dramatically expands law enforcement's authority to conduct warrantless searches. She wondered how secure people's homes are if police "can pound on doors at will and, on hearing sounds indicative of things moving, forcibly enter and search for evidence of unlawful activity," all without a warrant. As for Hollis King, his case goes back to the Kentucky Supreme Court, which will apply the ruling issued by the Supreme Court and determine if the incident in his apartment in fact constituted an exigent circumstance and therefore allowed warrantless entry by the Lexington police. If you have questions about search warrants or any other topic covered in our blog, call defense lawyer Nancy King at (916) 442-1200.

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