Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Kentucky v. King: Welcome to the Police State

In Kentucky v. King, the United States Supreme Court continued the judicial encroachment on our fundamental freedoms. here are the facts from the court's syllabus:
Police officers in Lexington, Kentucky, followed a suspected drug dealerto an apartment complex. They smelled marijuana outside anapartment door, knocked loudly, and announced their presence. As soon as the officers began knocking, they heard noises coming from the apartment; the officers believed that these noises were consistent with the destruction of evidence. The officers announced their intent to enter the apartment, kicked in the door, and found respondent andothers. They saw drugs in plain view during a protective sweep of the apartment and found additional evidence during a subsequent search. The Circuit Court denied respondent’s motion to suppress the evidence, holding that exigent circumstances—the need to pre-vent destruction of evidence—justified the warrantless entry.
The apartment the police entered did not contain the drug dealer they were chasing. But after entry, the police charges these folks who were simply in their own apartment.

The court called this warrantless entry "objectively reasonable."  Really?

The court held as follows:
For these reasons, we conclude that the exigent circumstances rule applies when the police do not gain entry topremises by means of an actual or threatened violation ofthe Fourth Amendment. This holding provides ampleprotection for the privacy rights that the Amendment protects.

When law enforcement officers who are not armed with a warrant knock on a door, they do no more than any private citizen might do. And whether the person who knocks on the door and requests the opportunity to speak is a police officer or a private citizen, the occupant has noobligation to open the door or to speak. Cf. Florida v. Royer, 460 U. S. 491, 497–498 (1983). (“[H]e may decline to listen to the questions at all and may go on his way”).When the police knock on a door but the occupants choosenot to respond or to speak, “the investigation will havereached a conspicuously low point,” and the occupants “will have the kind of warning that even the most elaborate security system cannot provide.” Chambers, 395 F. 3d, at 577 (Sutton, J., dissenting). And even if an occupant chooses to open the door and speak with the officers, the occupant need not allow the officers to enter the premises and may refuse to answer any questions at any time.

Occupants who choose not to stand on their constitutional rights but instead elect to attempt to destroy evidence have only themselves to blame for the warrantless exigent-circumstances search that may ensue. 
Granted the folks whose apartment the police invaded were doing something illegal.  Even if people are doing something illegal in their homes, the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution requires a warrant from entry, except for what should be limited circumstances.

In this case, there was no reason that the police could not have posted an officer outside the apartment or outside building entrances to obtain a warrant based upon the noise and odor of marijuana.

Here is what is scary about this decision.  Every time a police officer wants to justify a warrantless entry, all the officer needs to do now is claim that the officer heard noises that he or she thought might be destroying evidence.

I agree with the following that begins Justice Ginsberg's dissent:
The Court today arms the police with a way routinely to dishonor the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement indrug cases. In lieu of presenting their evidence to a neu-tral magistrate, police officers may now knock, listen, then break the door down, nevermind that they had ample timeto obtain a warrant. I dissent from the Court’s reduction of the Fourth Amendment’s force.
Welcome to the police state.

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