Knocking on the Door.

U.S. Supreme  Court
Washington, D.C.
Kentucky v. King
January 12, 2011
     So, it’s Saturday night.  Bob Marley is on the turntable.  You’re hanging out with a couple of friends, laughing on the couch.  Cokes are in the icebox.  Thoughts are passed around in a pakalolo-packed calumet.  It’s all good, as they used to say last century.
     The next thing you know, the front door of your flat is kicked in, police officers ready to search your home.  Just a moment ago, the cops were pounding on the door, yelling “Police!” In that intervening moment, you got off the couch, shuffled around, put the pipe in its proper place and tried to make yourself presentable.  Is this situation one where an emergency exists, requiring the police to kick in your door and search your place without a warrant?
     That’s the fact pattern that resulted in this morning’s oral arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Kentucky v. King.
     Kentucky argued that the combination of the smell of marijuana smoke, the resident’s failure to respond to the officer’s knock and the sounds of movement inside the apartment justify a warrantless entry and search.  The police claimed that they could tell by the sounds from inside the apartment that evidence was being destroyed.  It’s a well-established principle that if police reasonably believe that evidence is being destroyed, they can enter a residence and conduct a search.  The issue the court must decide is if the police impermissibly create the emergency situation?  If they did, they cannot rely on the emergency situation to justify their warrantless search.
     King, who was sentenced to 11 years for drug related charges, argued that the police impermissibly created exigent circumstances when they engaged in conduct that would cause a reasonable person to believe that entry is imminent and inevitable.
     The court must also determine the proper test to evaluate police conduct.  Kentucky argued that the test is if the police acted in a lawful manner, they do not impermissibly create exigent circumstances.  King argued that police behavior must be analyzed by looking at the totality of the circumstances, and that no single factor – such as the lawfulness of the police actions or foreseeability of the destruction of evidence – establishes the exigent circumstances.
     A ruling by the court that all that is needed to justify a warrantless search is a police officer knocking on the door, announcing his presence and hearing a noise would seem to eviscerate all protection the fourth amendment provides against unreasonable searches.

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