Supreme Court Drug Crimes Case Extends Utah Police Powers

The King Decision

In Kentucky vs. King, the U.S. Supreme Court in an 8-1 decision ruled that the exigent circumstances rule applies when the police do not gain entry to premises by means of an actual or threatened violation of the Fourth Amendment.

In the King case police in Lexington, Kentucky were called to investigate a suspected drug dealer. The suspect ran into an apartment and the police pursued him. They did not know which apartment he went into but smelled marijuana smoke coming from one apartment and announced themselves and knocked on the door. As the police banged on the door they heard noises inside that led them to believe evidence was being destroyed.  Consequently, the police kicked in the door, searched the home, and arrested several people for drug crimes.

The Supreme Court addressed whether this search was lawful under the Fourth Amendment of the United States and the exigent circumstances doctrine, which allows for warrantless searches in some situations such as when the destruction of evidence is imminent.

The Supreme Court also addressed whether this search falls under the “police-created exigency” doctrine. Under this doctrine, police may not rely on the need to prevent destruction of evidence when that exigency was “created” or “manufactured” by the conduct of the police.

In a very broad analysis the Court found that a warrantless search is justified when it is reasonable to dispense with the warrant requirement.  Under this overbroad rule the Court then found that since a warrantless entry to prevent the destruction of evidence is reasonable and since the police in this case thought evidence was being destroyed, the warrantleses entry was justified under the Fourth Amendment.

Consequences of the King Decision

To put it simply, this case vastly extends the police power.  All a police officer has to do now to enter a home without a warrant is to claim that he thought evidence was being surprised.  The law of search and seizure has come a long way since the Bill of Rights was first approved by Congress.  This case is a terrible setback in civil rights and is likely to result in much more abuse by law enforcement officers.

 

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