Supreme Court Reduces Fourth Amendment Protections in Homes

Supreme Court Reduces Fourth Amendment Protections in Homes

Justice Ginsburg's spells out in her dissenting opinion how the majority diminishes the Fourth Amendment protections for ordinary citizens.  "The Court today arms the police with a way routinely to dishonor the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement in drug cases.  In lieu of presenting their evidence to a neutral magistrate, police officers may now knock, listen, then break the door down, never mind that they had ample time to obtain a warrant.  I dissent from the Court’s reduction of the Fourth Amendment’s force."

The majority opinion (8-1) written by Justice Alito holds that the exigent (emergency) circumstances rule applies when the police do not create the exigency by engaging or threatening to engage in conduct that violates the Fourth Amendment.  In this Kentucky case the Supreme Court supports the warrant-less entry into an apartment by police who believed they smelled marijuana when the were near the door. After the smell, they knocked on the door and announced their presence.  When no one answered and they heard what sounded like the destruction of evidence, they broke down the door.  Inside they found marijuana and other drug contraband.  At issue is the Fourth Amendment and the protections it affords.


The Fourth Amendment guarantees to the people “[t]he right . . . to be secure  in their . . .  houses . . .  against unreasonable  searches and seizures.”   Warrants to search, the Amendment further instructs, shall issue only upon a showing of “probable cause” to believe criminal activity is afoot. 


Kentucky v. King is an important case in Fourth Amendment Law as it announces that police may now enter a private dwelling without a warrant, even when they could have sought one, if they have what they believe is some indication of a crime from within, coupled with the barest something that could lead to the destruction of evidence.  Sight, sound, and now smell seem to be  fair game in the replacement of the warrant requirement previously guaranteed by the Constitution.


Today's  Kentuck v. King decision is reported today in the New York Times, NPRChristian Science Monitor and TIME.
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