Kentucky v. King, 131 S. Ct. 1849 (2011).
Officers had reason to believe that a suspect was in possession of contraband. The officers, believing that the apartment of the defendant belonged to the suspect, entered the defendant’s apartment without a warrant. Before entering, the officers banged on the door of the apartment and announced their presence. The officers could hear noises of people moving inside the apartment. The officers kicked the door and the apartment without a warrant. Defendant argued that the police, by knocking on the door of the residence and announcing their presence, caused the occupants to attempt to destroy evidence, thereby manufacturing the exigent circumstance.
Held: The officers did not manufacture the exigent circumstance because the officers’ conduct preceding the warrantless search was reasonable. The officers, after hearing noises of movements in the apartment had reason to believe that the defendant was attempting to destroy evidence.
Police officers set up a controlled buy of crack cocaine outside an apartment complex. Undercover Officer Gibbons watched the deal take place from an unmarked car in a nearby parking lot. After the deal occurred, Gibbons radioed uniformed officers to move in on the suspect. He told the officers that the suspect was moving quickly toward the breezeway of an apartment building, and he urged them to “hurry up and get there” before the suspect entered an apartment.
In response to the radio alert, the uniformed officers drove into the nearby parking lot, left their vehicles, and ran to the breezeway.
Just as they entered the breezeway, they heard a door shut and detected a very strong smell of burnt marijuana. At the end of the breezeway, the officers saw two apartments, one on the left and one on the right, and they did not know which apartment the suspect had entered. Gibbons had radioed that the suspect was running into the apartment on the right, but the officers did not hear this statement because they had already left their vehicles.
Because they smelled marijuana smoke emanating from the apartment on the left, they approached the door of that apartment.
Officer Steven Cobb, one of the uniformed officers who approached the door, testified that the officers banged on the left apartment door “as loud as [they] could” and announced, “ ‘This is the police’ ” or “ ‘Police, police, police.’ ” Cobb said that “as soon as the officers started banging on the door,” they “could hear people inside moving,” and “it sounded as though things were being moved inside the apartment.” These noises, Cobb testified, led the officers to believe that drug-related evidence was about to be destroyed.
At that point, the officers announced that they “were going to make entry inside the apartment.” Cobb then kicked in the door, and the officers entered the apartment. They found three people in the front room. They were Hollis King, King’s girlfriend, and a guest who was smoking marijuana. The officers performed a protective sweep of the apartment during which they saw marijuana and powder cocaine in plain view. In a subsequent search, they also discovered crack cocaine, cash, and drug paraphernalia.
Police eventually entered the apartment on the right. Inside, they found the suspected drug dealer who was the initial target of their investigation.
A grand jury charged King with trafficking in marijuana, first-degree trafficking in a controlled substance, and second-degree persistent felony offender status. King filed a motion to suppress the evidence from the warrantless search, but the Circuit Court denied the motion on the grounds that the exigency of the circumstance justified the officers entry into the apartment. Because the occupants were attempting to destroy evidence. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
The Kentucky Court of Appeals affirmed. But the the Supreme Court of Kentucky reversed. The US supreme court granted certiorari.
Whether the police, by knocking on the door of the residence and announcing their presence, caused the occupants to attempt to destroy evidence, thereby manufacturing the exigent circumstance.
The need to prevent the imminent destruction of evidence has long been recognized as a sufficient justification for a warrantless search. This exigent circumstances rule justifies a warrantless search when the conduct of the police preceding the exigency is reasonable in the same sense.
The Supreme Court of Kentucky reversed the lower court’s opinion because the court was of the opinion that the police manufactured the exigent circumstance because it was reasonably foreseeable that the occupants would destroy evidence when the police knocked on the door and announced their presence.
But the US Supreme Court disagreed. Instead, the US supreme court found that the test is whether the officers officers conduct preceding the warrantless search is reasonable.
Here is how the court explained its position:
The court stated that, despite the welter of tests devised by the lower courts, the answer to the question presented in this case follows directly and clearly from the principle that permits warrantless searches in the first place. As previously noted, warrantless searches are allowed when the circumstances make it reasonable, within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, to dispense with the warrant requirement. Therefore, the answer to the question before us is that the exigent circumstances rule justifies a warrantless search when the conduct of the police preceding the exigency is reasonable in the same sense. 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.
We have taken a similar approach in other cases involving warrantless searches. For example, we have held that law enforcement officers may seize evidence in plain view, provided that they have not violated the Fourth Amendment in arriving at the spot from which the observation of the evidence is made.
Similarly, officers may seek consent-based encounters if they are lawfully present in the place where the consensual encounter occurs.
For these reasons, we conclude 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. This holding provides ample protection for the privacy rights that the Amendment protects.
Next the court applied this rule to the facts of the case. The court assumed for purposes of argument that an exigency existed.
The court explained that, in this case, we see no evidence that the officers either violated the Fourth Amendment or threatened to do so prior to the point when they entered the apartment. Officer Cobb testified without contradiction that the officers “banged on the door as loud as they could” and announced either “ ‘Police, police, police’ ” or “ ‘This is the police.’ ”
This conduct was entirely consistent with the Fourth Amendment, and we are aware of no other evidence that might show that the officers either violated the Fourth Amendment or threatened to do so.
Like the court below, we assume for purposes of argument that an exigency existed. 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 judgement of the Kentucky supreme court was reversed because the court found that the officers did not manufacture the exigency and the exigency justified entry into the residence.