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US Supreme Court Overrules Kentucky and Allows Warrantless Search

The US Supreme Court this week upheld the search of a Kentucky man's apartment after police broke in without a search warrant because they said they smelled burning marijuana and heard sounds suggesting he was trying to destroy the evidence. The decision in Kentucky v. King overturned a Kentucky Supreme Court ruling in favor of the apartment resident, Hollis King, who was arrested after police entered his apartment and found drugs. Fourth Amendment doctrine holds that police must obtain a search warrant to search a residence unless there are "exigent circumstances." In the current case, the exigent circumstance was that, after they knocked on the apartment door, they heard noises they said suggested evidence was being destroyed. The Kentucky Supreme Court had held that police could not use the exigent circumstances exception because they themselves had created the exigent circumstance by knocking on the door. The US Supreme Court came to a different conclusion. In the past, the court has said police usually may not enter a home unless they have a search warrant or the permission of the owner. As Justice Alito states, "The 4th Amendment has drawn a firm line at the entrance to the house." Justice Samuel Alito wrote the opinion for the 8-1 majority, stating that people have no obligation to answer the door when police knock or to allow them to come in if they have opened the door. In such cases, police would have to persuade a judge to issue a search warrant. Although Justice Alito wrote this, the warrantless search was upheld. According to police, the residents started scuttling around suspiciously upon hearing police announce their presence. "Occupants who choose not to stand on their constitutional rights but instead elect to attempt to destroy evidence have only themselves to blame," Alito wrote. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, arguing that in ruling for the police, the court was giving them a way to get around the search warrant requirement in drug cases. "Police officers may now knock, listen, then break the door down, never mind that they had ample time to obtain a warrant," she wrote. In this case King was not the target of police. Lexington police had set up a controlled drug buy on the street outside the apartment building, but when they attempted to arrest the suspect, he fled into the building. When police arrived in the hallway, the suspect had vanished, and all police saw was two apartment doors. When they smelled the odor of pot coming from King's apartment, they chose that door. The original suspect was in the other apartment and was later arrested. The ruling was not a final loss for King. The justices said the Kentucky state court should consider again whether the police faced an emergency situation in this case. Ginsburg, however, said the court's approach "arms the police with a way routinely to dishonor the 4th Amendment's warrant requirement in drug cases." She said the police did not face a "genuine emergency" and should not have been allowed to enter the apartment without a warrant. If you have been arrested in Cincinnati or Northern Kentucky, contact Michael Bouldin at mike@bouldinlawfirm.com or 859-581-6453 (581-MIKE). You should know your rights and potential defenses to criminal charges.

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