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Does Flushing Your Toilet After a Police Knock Mean They Can Search Your House Without a Warrant?

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Supreme Court of the United States by Padraic on Flickr

Supreme Court of the United States by Padraic on Flickr

During oral arguments about a case involving the constitutionality of a warrantless search, some United States Supreme Court justices hinted that they might be inclined to OK a warrantless search based on the police’s contention that they felt evidence was being destroyed inside a home.

The case is Kentucky v. King in which the justices are faced with the question of whether police may enter a home without a search warrant when, after knocking, they hear a noise they claim indicates evidence may be being destroyed — such as a flushing toilet, for example.

Generally, police cannot enter a private home without a search warrant pursuant to the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Justice Elena Kagan feared that such an expansion of the warrantless search exception could mean a police officer could justify a search simply by saying he smelled marijuana smoke and “we heard noise” inside the house.

Justice Antonin Scalia, on the other hand, didn’t seem to think such an entry would be unconstitutional, encouraging house residents to respond an officer’s request to enter the dwelling with, “Oh, heck, no, you can’t come in; do you have a warrant?”

In the case before the court, police were tracking an undercover operation in which an informant had purchased crack cocaine; the dealer then entered King’s apartment building. At that point, police were unable to pinpoint which door the dealer had entered, so they followed their noses to King’s door, which they said smelled of pot. Upon knocking, the officers say, they heard noise inside that suggested to them evidence was being destroyed, so they kicked down the door, found marijuana and crack cocaine in King’s apartment, and arrested him.

King pleaded guilty to drug charges, but the Supreme Court of Kentucky tossed his conviction and the drug evidence, finding that his constitutional rights were violated when the police entered his apartment without a warrant.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg seemed to side with King and Justice Kagan, suggesting that police should have just gotten a warrant when they smelled the pot. A decision in the case is expected in a few months.

Incidentally, the alleged drug dealer the police had been searching for was eventually found in a different apartment in the building.

Do you think police should be allowed to conduct warrantless searches of private homes if they claim to hear noises that suggest the destruction of evidence?

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January 13th, 2011 at 10:11 am

Posted in Fourth Amendment

Tagged with ,