Case Watch: Kentucky v. King (Police Created Exigent Circumstances Case)

No warrant! That’s fine, police officers can now enter your home without one if they hear or smell anything suspicious coming from within it, based on a recent 8-1 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.  

Suspected drug dealers didn’t answer their door in time, so police officers barged right in without a warrant, because they allegedly smelled marijuana and heard what appeared to sound like the destruction of evidence, according to the court opinion in Kentucky v. King.

The question is now, are we safe from police intrusion within our homes.  The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from illegal search and seizures with a valid search warrant. However, the court has long recognized exceptions to this rule. The exception disputed in this case is called “exigent circumstances”. Exigent circumstances exist where the police need to act fast without a warrant and conduct a search, because the fear the evidence will be lost or that their own lives are in danger, et cetera.

In this case, the suspected drug dealer’s argued that the police officers created exigent circumstances when they shouted and forcefully knocked on their door. They claimed that anyone in possession of illegal substances would have tried to destroy it if they knew the cops were at the door. Thus, they argue that the police officers illegally created the exception to the warrant requirement.

The Court did not agree with this argument.  Instead, the court ruled that the police officers had not violated the Fourth Amendment at all.  Had the alleged drug dealers simply opened their door when the officer’s knocked, they could have decided not to let them in, according to the court.  People can treat the police like any other guest when officers do not possess a warrant, said Justice Alito.  

Only when the police officers notice something suspicious, which objectively appears to fall under exigent circumstances, can they enter your home without a warrant.  The court also said that it only evaluates the officer’s actions objectively and it is not concerned with the officer's under lying motivation. 

So beware, answer your door when you have guests or risk having your home invaded by police.


Dave Dambreville is a 2013 graduate of Pennsylvania State University, Dickinson School of Law.  He serves as the Publisher and regular contributor to the FPT Law Blog.


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