by ownbestenemy, we should be cautious interpreting this
decision, and not rush to conclusions. I see a lot of emotional and heated responses, and that is never helpful in understanding complex and nuanced
issues such as this one.
I want to, up front, disclose that I am absolutely and completely against the “war on drugs,” but this case and decision must be interpreted in
light of what the law presently is
, not what we would like it to be.
After reading the posts so far, one crucial point that no one apparently knows, or mentioned, is immediately obvious: the Supreme Court
didn’t rule the officers’ conduct in this case was lawful.
Some of you that are visibly upset with this decision might want to read
this statement again.
It seems to me, as well, that a lot of members are commenting without any, or with little, knowledge of the context of the case. We’re not talking
about police officers randomly knocking on people’s doors and barging in when they hear noises.
The police set up a controlled buy of crack coc aine outside an apartment complex. An undercover police officer witnessed the deal take place,
the suspect left and moved quickly toward the breezeway of an apartment building. At that point the undercover officer radioed to uniformed officers
to “hurry up and get there
” before the suspect entered an apartment.
Just as the officers entered the breezeway, they heard a door shut and detected a very strong odor of burnt marijuana. At the end of the breezeway,
the officers saw two apartments, one on the left and one on the right, and they did not know which apartment the suspect had entered.
They smelled marijuana outside the apartment on the left, so they “knocked loudly, and announced their presence. As soon as [they] began
knocking, they heard noises coming from the apartment.
” The officers believed the noises “were consistent with the destruction of
” At that point, the officers announced that they “were going to make entry inside the apartment
,” and they kicked in the
The officers entered the apartment, and they found three people in the front room: Hollis King, his girlfriend, and a guest who was smoking marijuana.
The officers performed a protective sweep of the apartment during which they saw marijuana and powder coc aine in plain view. In a subsequent
search, they also discovered crack coc aine, cash, and drug paraphernalia.
This was, however, the wrong apartment. Police eventually entered the apartment on the right and inside they found the suspected drug dealer who was
the initial target of their investigation.
King was charged with trafficking in marijuana, first degree trafficking in a controlled substance, and second degree persistent felony offender
status. King argued the evidence from the warrantless search had to be thrown out. And this is ultimately the contention in this case.
Normally police needs a warrant, or consent, to enter someone’s house. But they can enter a house without a warrant if there are “exigent
circumstances.” Typically these include the belief that someone is in danger or in need of medical help, or, for instance, noises indicative that
evidence is being destroyed are heard.
There was some uncertainty to what the test for these exceptions was, so the Supreme Court, in this case, basically set a bright line rule to be used
when analyzing and deciding similar cases and circumstances. “[A] warrantless entry based on exigent circumstances is reasonable when the police
did not create the exigency by engaging or threatening to engage in conduct violating the Fourth Amendment.
By knocking on the door and merely announcing their presence the officers weren’t “engaged or threatening to engage” in conduct violating the
4th Amendment. That is perfectly legal conduct.
If, however, prior to the noise they heard, the officers had demanded entry into the apartment, then their conduct would be offensive to the 4th
Amendment, even if they had heard the same kind of noises they did here after their demand to enter.
If King, or anyone else, hadn’t responded to the officers, or simply refused to open the door, then the officers had no right to enter his house. It
was the alleged destruction of evidence that made the officers entry permissible, because it created an exigent circumstance, the officers smelled
marijuana and they reasonably thought their suspect might be in there.
To conclude, and coming back to my initial point, the Supreme Court didn’t rule the officers’ conduct in this case was lawful
, the Court
simply defined the rule to be used when analyzing this and other similar cases. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the lower court to determine if
there was indeed any “exigent circumstances,” based on the facts of the case, and apply the rule the Court defined.
Overall, I find the rule the Court defined, at least in theory, to be a sensible one.
If this decision opens the door — excuse the pun — to more possible police abuse, I don’t know, but if it does, it’s always possible that the
Court can deal with that then.