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Thread: Supreme court rules 8-1 that warrants no longer needed to search homes for pot.

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    Supreme court rules 8-1 that warrants no longer needed to search homes for pot.

    Supreme Court upholds warrantless search of apartment based on marijuana smell

    By Eric W. Dolan
    Monday, May 16th, 2011 -- 8:19 pm
    Print 173


    Police find illegal drugs after busting into wrong apartment complex

    The smell of marijuana smoke and sound of evidence being destroyed is enough reason for police to knock down an apartment door and search the place without a warrant, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday.

    In an 8-1 decision [PDF], the nation's highest court said the warrantless search of an apartment in Lexington, Kentucky was legal because of "exigent circumstances," which permits law enforcement officers to conduct a warrantless search if there is a strong likelihood of destruction of evidence.

    In the case Kentucky v. King, uniformed Lexington police officers pursued a suspected drug dealer to an apartment complex. The officers approached an apartment door where they believed the suspect had entered, knocked loudly and announced their presence.

    The officers said they could smell marijuana smoke and heard noises consistent with the destruction of evidence after knocking.

    The officers then kicked in the apartment door -- which turned out to be the wrong apartment -- and entered, finding marijuana and powder cocaine in plain sight and finding additional evidence during a second search.

    Lexington police officers eventually entered another apartment in the complex where they found the initial target of their investigation.

    The Supreme Court of Kentucky had ruled that the initial search of the apartment was not allowed under the exigent-circumstances rule because the officers should have foreseen that knocking on the door would prompt the occupants to attempt to destroy evidence. The court said the officers could not "deliberately create the exigent circumstances with the bad faith intent to avoid the warrant requirement."

    The Supreme Court of the United States ruled there was no evidence that the police had acted in "bad faith" and that the smell of marijuana and the noises created inside the apartment were sufficient to establish that evidence was being destroyed.

    "Where, as here, the police did not create the exigency by engaging or threatening to engage in conduct that violates the Fourth Amendment, warrantless entry to prevent the destruction of evidence is reasonable and thus allowed," Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the majority.

    "Because the officers in this case did not violate or threaten to violate the Fourth Amendment prior to the exigency, we hold that the exigency justified the warrantless search of the apartment," the Supreme Court ruled, reversing the decision of the Kentucky Supreme Court.

    "The court today arms the police with a way routinely to dishonor the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement in drug cases," Justice Ruth B. Ginsburg wrote in her lone dissent. "In lieu of presenting their evidence to a neutral magistrate, police officers may now knock, listen, then break the door down, nevermind that they had ample time to obtain a warrant."

    I guess what I find most troubling about this case is that the supreme court ruled in favor of the officers 8-1. Not only does this ruling fly in the face of the 4th amendment, it leaves the decision up to the officers whether they want to obtain a warrant or not. It's very hard to prove that the cops at your door didn't smell pot before bursting in and searching your home without a warrant. And even if they did smell marijuana, am I the only one that's troubled that we're throwing out a major part of our bill of rights in order to catch people who are not only doing a drug that has proven to be less harmful than alcohol, but we're persecuting them while they're doing it inside the confines of their own home and harming no one else?
    "They keep talking about drafting a Constitution for Iraq. Why don't we just give them ours? It was written by a lot of really smart guys, it's worked for over 200 years, and [heck], we're not using it anymore."
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shooterandproud View Post
    I guess what I find most troubling about this case is that the supreme court ruled in favor of the officers 8-1. Not only does this ruling fly in the face of the 4th amendment, it leaves the decision up to the officers whether they want to obtain a warrant or not. It's very hard to prove that the cops at your door didn't smell pot before bursting in and searching your home without a warrant. And even if they did smell marijuana, am I the only one that's troubled that we're throwing out a major part of our bill of rights in order to catch people who are not only doing a drug that has proven to be less harmful than alcohol, but we're persecuting them while they're doing it inside the confines of their own home and harming no one else?
    This ruling was correct and in the original understanding of the amendment. You give the argument that is very hard to prove the cop didn't smell pot; well, it is very hard to prove the cop didn't hear "screaming" in the house when they bust in but this is also a circumstance a cop and move in without a warrant. It is hard to argue that destruction of evidence is not a good enough reason to bust in the door.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Steeeeve View Post
    This ruling was correct and in the original understanding of the amendment. You give the argument that is very hard to prove the cop didn't smell pot; well, it is very hard to prove the cop didn't hear "screaming" in the house when they bust in but this is also a circumstance a cop and move in without a warrant. It is hard to argue that destruction of evidence is not a good enough reason to bust in the door.
    Screaming indicates the need for immediate entry in order to save someone. When someone's life is at stake, I'll be more understanding of these new "extenuating circumstances". Besides, the girl who was screaming could always testify that she was screaming.

    Anywho, you've still failed to prove to me why the scent of one of the least harmful recreational drugs is reason enough to break down a door and search a home without a warrant.
    "They keep talking about drafting a Constitution for Iraq. Why don't we just give them ours? It was written by a lot of really smart guys, it's worked for over 200 years, and [heck], we're not using it anymore."
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    When I was a smoker I smoked Marlboro Reds, which have been known to smell exactly like pot when burning. Under this new ruling a cop could walk by a door and smell cigarette smoke and if he chooses can now bust in and detain a person until a search is done . If that person just happens to also smoke Pot and has a hidden stash that is found due to the cigarette smoke then I would have to believe it would be unconstitutional to convict this person. The ruling In my opinion was incorrect and should be overturned. They've taken enough away from the Constitution, this should be stopped.
    "You're too stupid to be saved." -- EasyRider.


    "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shooterandproud View Post
    Screaming indicates the need for immediate entry in order to save someone. When someone's life is at stake, I'll be more understanding of these new "extenuating circumstances". Besides, the girl who was screaming could always testify that she was screaming.

    Anywho, you've still failed to prove to me why the scent of one of the least harmful recreational drugs is reason enough to break down a door and search a home without a warrant.
    It was not the scent that was important, it was the noises the officers heard when they knocked on the door and announced their presence....noises they they thought indicated that evidence was being destroyed.

    As much as I detest the idea of most warrant-less searches, this one does not really set off any alarms. If the people inside had not freaked out, it would have been OK. Stuff the weed under the couch, open the apartment door, tell the cops they have the wrong apartment. No problem.
    If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen. —Samuel Adams

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    I actually have to agree with the ruling. The Supreme Court only confirmed that in order the defend against exigent circumstances you have to show that the police caused the exigency. I've pulled a general definition for exigency from Wikipedia:

    An exigent circumstance, in the American law of criminal procedure, allows law enforcement to enter a structure without a warrant, or if they have a "knock and announce" warrant, without knocking and waiting for refusal under certain circumstances. It must be a situation where people are in imminent danger, evidence faces imminent destruction, or a suspect will escape.
    An exigent circumstance only exists if probable cause has been established. If a police officer simply walks by your door and smells marijuana or hears movement they still need a specific reason to be going to your door in the first place. Otherwise, they cannot obtain a warrant.

    In this case an undercover police officer watched a suspected drug dealer make an exchange and enter into one of two apartments. He notified uniformed police officers who investigated the area and noticed the smell of marijuana coming from one of the apartments. This combined with the fact a suspected drug dealer is believed to be located in one of the apartments provides the police with probable cause. They could easily obtain a warrant with this information.

    They proceeded to knock on the door and announce themselves as officers and were greeted by the sounds of "evidence destruction". This served as the exigent circumstance needed for a warrantless entrance.

    To be fair, I'm not certain what constitutes sounds of evidence destruction and I am concerned that thus far I haven't read anything that indicates anyone was caught in the act of destroying evidence. But that is not what this case was about. King's response did not question whether the exigency existed only whether the police created the exigency. In other words he is saying, "If the police hadn't knocked on my door I wouldn't have had to destroy the abundance of coke and marijuana on my table."

    The court ruled that the police knocking on your door is not an indication of their attempt to violate your rights and thus responding as if they were is not appropriate.

    I'm inclined to agree.
    Today I am an Atheist. Not out of bitter spite for religion or a hatred of spirituality. But by a peace and calm that in the tumultuous storm that is life can only be brought on by logic and calm, methodical critical thinking of the world around me.-jazyjason

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shooterandproud View Post
    Screaming indicates the need for immediate entry in order to save someone. When someone's life is at stake, I'll be more understanding of these new "extenuating circumstances". Besides, the girl who was screaming could always testify that she was screaming.

    Anywho, you've still failed to prove to me why the scent of one of the least harmful recreational drugs is reason enough to break down a door and search a home without a warrant.
    the harmfulness of the drug is irrelevant to the case.

    The point is that just like eminent danger, destruction of evidence is another reason you can search without a warrant. It is hard to argue that it is not reasonable.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JWilliam View Post
    I actually have to agree with the ruling. The Supreme Court only confirmed that in order the defend against exigent circumstances you have to show that the police caused the exigency. I've pulled a general definition for exigency from Wikipedia:



    An exigent circumstance only exists if probable cause has been established. If a police officer simply walks by your door and smells marijuana or hears movement they still need a specific reason to be going to your door in the first place. Otherwise, they cannot obtain a warrant.

    In this case an undercover police officer watched a suspected drug dealer make an exchange and enter into one of two apartments. He notified uniformed police officers who investigated the area and noticed the smell of marijuana coming from one of the apartments. This combined with the fact a suspected drug dealer is believed to be located in one of the apartments provides the police with probable cause. They could easily obtain a warrant with this information.

    They proceeded to knock on the door and announce themselves as officers and were greeted by the sounds of "evidence destruction". This served as the exigent circumstance needed for a warrantless entrance.

    To be fair, I'm not certain what constitutes sounds of evidence destruction and I am concerned that thus far I haven't read anything that indicates anyone was caught in the act of destroying evidence. But that is not what this case was about. King's response did not question whether the exigency existed only whether the police created the exigency. In other words he is saying, "If the police hadn't knocked on my door I wouldn't have had to destroy the abundance of coke and marijuana on my table."

    The court ruled that the police knocking on your door is not an indication of their attempt to violate your rights and thus responding as if they were is not appropriate.

    I'm inclined to agree.
    Very good analysis of this. And an 8-1 ruling is pretty rare and overwhelming in support.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Xcaliber View Post
    When I was a smoker I smoked Marlboro Reds, which have been known to smell exactly like pot
    I've never heard of this. Are you sure they were Reds you were smoking? Where might I find a "pack"...
    Today I am an Atheist. Not out of bitter spite for religion or a hatred of spirituality. But by a peace and calm that in the tumultuous storm that is life can only be brought on by logic and calm, methodical critical thinking of the world around me.-jazyjason

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    Quote Originally Posted by Steeeeve View Post
    And an 8-1 ruling is pretty rare and overwhelming in support.
    Definitely. This is what prompted my further inquiry into this case. I couldn't believe that the Supreme Court would rule in favor of violating the fourth amendment by such a landslide without a legitimate reason. I found that things would pretty much be left as they were.

    With that said, more review still needs to be done. There is still no clear way to test exigent circumstances. So, fears of abuse are not unfounded. But for majority of people who are not criminals (or at least very good at covering their tracks) this ruling will have no effect. But the lack of a means to judge, define and detect exigence (I feel like I'm making up words now) could result in police harassment or even worse if the police are unable to prove exigency incriminating evidence may be inadmissible in a murder trial.
    Today I am an Atheist. Not out of bitter spite for religion or a hatred of spirituality. But by a peace and calm that in the tumultuous storm that is life can only be brought on by logic and calm, methodical critical thinking of the world around me.-jazyjason

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    Quote Originally Posted by daewoo View Post
    It was not the scent that was important, it was the noises the officers heard when they knocked on the door and announced their presence....noises they they thought indicated that evidence was being destroyed.
    And what kind of noise is that? Shuffling? Footsteps? Things people do in their house quite often. Screaming? Not so much.

    As much as I detest the idea of most warrant-less searches, this one does not really set off any alarms. If the people inside had not freaked out, it would have been OK. Stuff the weed under the couch, open the apartment door, tell the cops they have the wrong apartment. No problem.
    Remember that this article has to do with searches. Whether or not you answer the door and no matter what you tell them, if they smell pot and they "think" evidence MAY be being destroyed, they can search your entire home, including under the couch.
    "They keep talking about drafting a Constitution for Iraq. Why don't we just give them ours? It was written by a lot of really smart guys, it's worked for over 200 years, and [heck], we're not using it anymore."
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    Quote Originally Posted by JWilliam View Post
    I actually have to agree with the ruling. The Supreme Court only confirmed that in order the defend against exigent circumstances you have to show that the police caused the exigency. I've pulled a general definition for exigency from Wikipedia:



    An exigent circumstance only exists if probable cause has been established. If a police officer simply walks by your door and smells marijuana or hears movement they still need a specific reason to be going to your door in the first place. Otherwise, they cannot obtain a warrant.

    In this case an undercover police officer watched a suspected drug dealer make an exchange and enter into one of two apartments. He notified uniformed police officers who investigated the area and noticed the smell of marijuana coming from one of the apartments. This combined with the fact a suspected drug dealer is believed to be located in one of the apartments provides the police with probable cause. They could easily obtain a warrant with this information.

    They proceeded to knock on the door and announce themselves as officers and were greeted by the sounds of "evidence destruction". This served as the exigent circumstance needed for a warrantless entrance.

    To be fair, I'm not certain what constitutes sounds of evidence destruction and I am concerned that thus far I haven't read anything that indicates anyone was caught in the act of destroying evidence. But that is not what this case was about. King's response did not question whether the exigency existed only whether the police created the exigency. In other words he is saying, "If the police hadn't knocked on my door I wouldn't have had to destroy the abundance of coke and marijuana on my table."

    The court ruled that the police knocking on your door is not an indication of their attempt to violate your rights and thus responding as if they were is not appropriate.

    I'm inclined to agree.
    The most troubling aspect of this new ruling is the fact that it allows the officers to judge what the destruction of evidence sounds like, which could be a wide variety of sounds. The potential to abuse this new rule is enormous. Seriously think about this ruling in cost/benefit terms. Will convicting a few small time pot users be worth the all of the abuse that will result from warrantless searches?

    Quote Originally Posted by steeeve
    the harmfulness of the drug is irrelevant to the case.

    The point is that just like eminent danger, destruction of evidence is another reason you can search without a warrant. It is hard to argue that it is not reasonable.
    It's quite relevant, unless you can show me how a non-violent victimless crime somehow creates exigent circumstances for a warrantless search.
    "They keep talking about drafting a Constitution for Iraq. Why don't we just give them ours? It was written by a lot of really smart guys, it's worked for over 200 years, and [heck], we're not using it anymore."
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shooterandproud View Post
    It's quite relevant, unless you can show me how a non-violent victimless crime somehow creates exigent circumstances for a warrantless search.
    No, all I need to do is show you a crime can create a exigent circumstance for a warrantless search. The 4th amendment has no provisions for "lesser" crimes.

    In this case the exigent circumstance is "destruction of evidence". Would you agree that "destruction of evidence" is a good reason for a warrantless search?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shooterandproud View Post
    The most troubling aspect of this new ruling is the fact that it allows the officers to judge what the destruction of evidence sounds like, which could be a wide variety of sounds. The potential to abuse this new rule is enormous.
    I agree that there is potential for abuse but it's not the result of this ruling. The abuse comes from the lack of a definitive means to evaluate exigency. Which was never established prior to and including this ruling.

    I provided a definition of exigency above but to put it more simply: an exigent circumstance is when the police are put in a situation in which taking the time to get a warrant could result in a suspect escaping, a person being harmed or evidence being destroyed. The police reserve the right to enter without a warrant only in those situations.A clause was added stating that should that circumstance be created by the police then entrance is still unjust.

    And remember all of this is contingent on the fact that they still must establish the grounds for a warrant prior to entrance. Smelling weed or hearing noises doesn't establish probable cause and therefore they cannot get a warrant. No grounds for a warrant; No entrance.

    King's defense was that the police's presence precipitated his behavior. Moreover, they should have known that by appearing at his door he would have destroyed any and all incriminating evidence. The court ruled that police presence does not equate to creating an exigent circumstance. They did not rule that police can enter a home based on "sounds of evidence destruction" as that was never in question. No one made an attempt to define what evidence destruction sounds like and whether it is a valid means at determining a persons' intent. Thus this ruling has not created anymore danger than there was previously.

    Seriously think about this ruling in cost/benefit terms. Will convicting a few small time pot users be worth the all of the abuse that will result from warrantless searches?
    Probable cause helps mitigate much of the abuse. The police must still establish grounds for a warrant before entering the premises regardless of whether they have one in hand. They need to have a reason to be at your doorstep. And once (read if) they develop a means to evaluate exigency abuse would be minimal. But the best way ensure that abuse doesn't effect people the way you've described is to legalize marijuana.
    Today I am an Atheist. Not out of bitter spite for religion or a hatred of spirituality. But by a peace and calm that in the tumultuous storm that is life can only be brought on by logic and calm, methodical critical thinking of the world around me.-jazyjason

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    From what I understand about this particular case the officers involved went to this persons door to investigate the suspected drug dealer entering the home. They had no cause to go there and initiate a search simply because they "suspected" evidence was being destroyed. IMO this should have been thrown out, I think The Court got this one wrong.
    "You're too stupid to be saved." -- EasyRider.


    "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
    Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
    Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"
    Epicurus

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