Search Allowed If Police Hear Evidence Being Destroyed

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The police do not need a warrant to enter a home if they smell burning marijuana, knock loudly, announce themselves and hear what they think is the sound of evidence being destroyed, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday in an 8-to-1 decision. The issue as framed by the majority was a narrow one. It assumed there was good reason to think evidence was being destroyed, and asked only whether the conduct of the police had impermissibly caused the destruction. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the majority, said police officers do not violate the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches by kicking down a door after the occupants of an apartment react to hearing that officers are there by seeming to destroy evidence. In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that the majority had handed the police an important new tool. “The court today arms the police with a way routinely to dishonor the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement in drug cases,” Justice Ginsburg wrote. “In lieu of presenting their evidence to a neutral magistrate, police officers may now knock, listen, then break the door down, never mind that they had ample time to obtain a warrant.” The case, Kentucky v. King, No. 09-1272, arose from a mistake. After seeing a drug deal in a parking lot, police officers in Lexington, Ky., rushed into an apartment complex looking for a suspect who had sold cocaine to an informant. But the smell of burning marijuana led them to the wrong apartment. After knocking and announcing themselves, they heard sounds from inside the apartment that they said made them fear that evidence was being destroyed. They kicked the door in and found marijuana and cocaine but not the original suspect, who was in a different apartment. The Kentucky Supreme Court suppressed the evidence, saying that any risk of drugs being destroyed was the result of the decision by the police to knock and announce themselves rather than obtain a warrant. The United States Supreme Court...
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