US Supreme Court OKs More Warrantless Searches

The U.S. Supreme Court has made it significantly easier for police to force their way into a home without a warrant. On Monday, the court, by an 8-1 vote, upheld the warrantless search of an apartment after police smelled marijuana and feared that those inside were destroying incriminating evidence.

The Constitution bars warrantless searches except in certain circumstances — for example, when police fear that evidence of a crime is being destroyed. The question in this case was whether police, by themselves creating such emergency circumstances, unconstitutionally evade the warrant requirement.

The case came from Lexington, Ky., where police pursuing a drug suspect banged on the door of an apartment where they thought they smelled marijuana. After loudly identifying themselves, police heard movement inside, and suspecting that evidence was being destroyed, kicked in the door. There they found Hollis Deshaun King, smoking marijuana. Police also found cocaine inside the apartment.

As it turned out, King was not the suspect police had been looking for, but the drug evidence in the apartment was more than enough to charge him with multiple crimes. King was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

But the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the drugs found in the apartment could not be used as evidence because the only emergency circumstances were those created by the police loudly alerting those inside. The state court said that instead of banging on the door and letting the inhabitants know the police were there, the police should have requested a warrant, a procedure that usually takes only a matter of minutes.

The U.S. Supreme Court, however, disagreed with the state court. The justices said that the Fourth Amendment bars unreasonable searches, and here the police acted reasonably. Writing for the court majority, Justice Samuel Alito noted that when occupants respond to a police knock on the door, they are not required to grant police permission to enter their homes. But, he said, if there is no response, and police hear movement inside that suggests destruction of evidence, they are justified in breaking in.

Criminal law experts said the ruling will undoubtedly lead to more warrantless searches like this one. In practice, says George Washington University law professor Stephen Saltzburg, the decision means that “whenever the police have suspicion that there is drug activity going on in a particular apartment or house and they knock and they hear movement inside and any reasonable delay in opening the door, they are going to break it in.”

Saltzburg, author of a leading text on criminal law, says the decision resolves conflicting decisions in the lower courts. “It provides greater clarity to the police as to what they are permitted to do, and it provides less protection for homes and apartments than a lot of people thought they had and think they should have,” he says.

Philip Heymann, former head of the U.S. Justice Department’s Criminal Division and now a professor at Harvard Law School, says the standard laid out in Monday’s decision will be very tempting for law enforcement officers to abuse — namely, allowing police to break in and search without a warrant when they knock on the door and hear sounds suggesting destruction of evidence. “That is a very fuzzy, indeterminate, easily faked — if the policeman wants to — test, when drugs have afterwards been found,” says Heymann.

And that, says University of Chicago law professor Bernard Harcourt, will mean a different set of police imperatives. “Once there is probable cause to believe that there are drugs in a home — and in this case the probable cause was the smell of marijuana emanating from the home … the police no longer need to stop and think about whether they should get a warrant.”

These and other criminal law experts said that under Monday’s ruling, police could go door to door in an apartment complex where there is known drug activity, and if they smell marijuana, bang on the door and if they hear noises that suggest the destruction of incriminating evidence, they can break in and seize evidence in plain sight.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the lone dissenter from the court’s ruling, accused the majority of “arm[ing]the police with a way routinely to dishonor the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement in drug cases. In lieu of presenting their evidence to a neutral magistrate,” she said, “police officers may now knock, listen, then break the door down, never mind that they had ample time to obtain a warrant.”

– Article from NPR.



  1. Anonymous on

    What’s the point? People in power have their own agenda—nothing will change. Scary yes—and going to get much worse. Hang on Canada, your next.

  2. Andy on

    Good comments, Obama hasn’t commented on this ruling yet, I wrote Senator Kohl from Wisconsin about this unjust ruling “Kentucky vs King”. This is truly scary, really!!

  3. Anonymous on

    They make their opinion based on how the law reads.
    The black booted ones are coming

    Ruth Bader Ginsburg I thank you. You are the only judge on that bench worthy of the robe you wear.


  4. Anonymous on

    I couldn’t agree with you more. It is funny but there are certain plants that smell exactly like marijuana. Whenever the lawn people are around our neighborhood, I smell those plants and I have to think twice because it is smells the same. I feel that more and more of our freedoms are being taken away in this country. I have never been more upset about this then now. I read all of these articles from this website and I am just floored at what is happening. It is crazy but it seems like this stupidity is taking over. I feel that you actually become smarter and more aware of the things that are going on around you, if you smoke pot. It opens your mind to all the bullshit that is going on. That is why they don’t want you to have it, because you will actually have a brain that works and can actually say this is crazy what they are doing to people. When I first heard of Marc and read the story on this website, I thought it was some made up story. I really could not believe that this poor man was thrown into prison and taken out of his own country and put in prison here in the United States. This does not make sense. I really just have to step back and say, I don’t understand. My eyes have been closed all these years and never knew the real story and woke up to the craziness that is around.

  5. chuck on

    I wholeheartedly agree as an American who recently obtained Canadian citizenship. Many ‘brainless turds’ about– that’s for sure. However, that’s all part of the master plan; got to dumb down the populace with propaganda and toys galore! Education? We don’t need no education–that’s mainly for the rich. Is there any living-wage jobs to be had with education? Hardly. And lest not forget that if you get busted for cannabis, there goes any chance of grants and loans for college! Yee HA! What’s that? We need to drug test people that are poor and are need of help? That’s right,.. you need assistance in Florida? Well, all you have to do is take a drug test that, by-the-way, you get to pay for, and we’ll throw ya a few dollars and some food. Fail and you lose again! And hey, no more warrants at all in Indiana? Awesome.

    Unfortunately, Canadians will have some of this heading north via Harper and his cronies. I had considered moving north myself if Harper was voted out of power. Conflicted I am knowing that the same shit is heading north. Hard to imagine a place much worse than Amerika, however. Would Canadians riot in the streets with Amerikan policies? Or are Canadians ‘easy’, too.

  6. Anonymous on

    So now Americans will never be safe from arbitrary invasion of privacy. Their homes might as well have no doors on them because “the smell of marijuana” is a completely subjective thing. There is no machine that discerns between the smell of Cannabis and the smell of, say, smoking any other herb or burning some kind of incense. Now the police will never again suffer the inconvenience of due legal process before doing a home invasion. All they have to do is say that they thought they smelled something that was what they personally think might be similar to what they think Cannabis smoke might smell like. That’s a lot of mights and thinks, isn’t it? Anyone smoking a cheap cigar is now liable to having their door smashed in and getting shot. Welcome to Obama’s America. If you’re suspected of being a serial killer, the police will have to get a warrant to search your home, but if you do anything that makes a smell that any cop THINKS is like Cannabis smoke then they’ll just barge right in there, because protecting America from smoking Cannabis is much more of a concern to Obama than stopping serial killers.

    Yes, America now has the lowest standards of rights and freedoms in the entire world. First, instead of capturing bin Laden and giving him a fair trial they just went to his house and shot him front of his wife and kids, then to cap it off they did away with the triviality of actually needing valid justification to invade any home in America. Next, Obama will make slavery legal again, then he will have reversed everything good that the founding fathers ever did by drawing up the Constitution. The Patriot Act was the start. When they saw how easily they got away with that, they decided to just do away with all Constitutional rights entirely. Now watch as nobody even bats an eye about it. Americans are so easy. If that was done in any other country there would be rioting in the streets but Americans just sit there and take it lie a bunch of brainless turds.