Skip to main content

Supreme Court Okays Police Search Based on Marijuana Odor, Noises

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #684)
Politics & Advocacy

The US Supreme Court Monday upheld the search of a Kentucky man's apartment after police broke in without a search warrant because they said they smelled burning marijuana and heard sounds suggesting he was trying to destroy the evidence. The decision in Kentucky v. King overturned a Kentucky Supreme Court ruling in favor of the apartment resident, Hollis King, who was arrested after police entered his apartment and found drugs.

The US Supreme Court -- dismantling the 4th amendment brick by brick
Fourth Amendment doctrine holds that police must obtain a search warrant to search a residence unless there are "exigent circumstances." In the current case, the exigent circumstance was that, after police knocked on the apartment door, they heard noises they said suggested evidence was being destroyed.

The Kentucky Supreme Court had held that police could not use the exigent circumstances exception because they themselves had created the exigent circumstance by knocking on the door. The US Supreme Court begged to differ.

In his opinion for the 8-1 majority, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that people have no obligation to answer the door when police knock or to allow them to come in if they have opened the door. In such cases, police would have to persuade a judge to issue a search warrant.

But that's not what King and fellow apartment residents did. They started scuttling around suspiciously upon hearing police announce their presence--or at least, police said they did. "Occupants who choose not to stand on their constitutional rights but instead elect to attempt to destroy evidence have only themselves to blame," Alito wrote.

Only Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, arguing that in ruling for the police, the court was giving them a way to get around the search warrant requirement in drug cases. "Police officers may now knock, listen, then break the door down, never mind that they had ample time to obtain a warrant," she wrote.

Oddly enough, King was not the target of police. Lexington police had set up a controlled drug buy on the street outside the apartment building, but when they attempted to arrest the suspect, he fled into the building. When police arrived in the hallway, the suspect had vanished, and all police saw was two apartment doors. When they smelled the odor of pot coming from King's apartment, they chose that door. The original suspect was in the other apartment. They arrested him later.

[Scott Morgan, editor at our Speakeasy blog and associate director of Flex Your Rights, has a piece on Huffington Post discussing the Supreme Court decision. Click here to read it.]

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Rookie (not verified)

Here are the facts people, You are sitting in the restroom of your master bedroom reading the paper, there is a knock at the front door, you drop the paper, flush and run to see who is there, you are greeted by armed officers, with the right to enter your home..


Congratulations, we have now entered a very very dark place in the history of this country!

Mon, 05/16/2011 - 6:15pm Permalink
Gene F (not verified)

Separation between Citizens and Government is a major red flag. If no correction, we are on the way out. 

Tue, 05/17/2011 - 12:29am Permalink
Socretes5566 (not verified)

The process is slow and creeps up on you when it comes to government controlling all aspects of your life... it can get away with - for your safety and everyone elses's of course - not!  Orwell's 1984... is becoming a reality.

Tue, 05/17/2011 - 9:31am Permalink
Annapurna1 (not verified)

In reply to by Socretes5566 (not verified)

the decision does in fact contradict itself at several points...see my post below...


Wed, 05/18/2011 - 3:03am Permalink
callum yeater (not verified)

stop censoring my post im not advocating violence i just say there should be a strong resistance against these kinds of tarnishments of our constitution we should stop allowing this to happen
Tue, 05/17/2011 - 12:18pm Permalink
Giordano (not verified)

Having problems with your entryways?  Can’t keep the pests out because your doors leak aromas?  Do your doors and windows transmit the sound of flushing toilets…?

Technological Counter-Adaptation is the thing to keep in mind when battling an American police state insidiously bequeathed upon us by our lowly supremes and assorted marijuana-phobes.  

Fight back with TCA.  Soundproof your toilets.  Seal and reinforce your doors and windows.  Put your government under surveillance.  A hidden sound-and/or-video capture system has a long history of being a very effective defense against violators of our civil rights.  Depending on specific state laws involving surreptitious recordings of speech, video recording may be the only option.  In any event, force your government live up to its own stated ideals of liberty and justice for everyone, because your government certainly doesn't care to do it by themselves.

Remember: only you can prevent police intrusions.


Tue, 05/17/2011 - 12:32pm Permalink
Annapurna1 (not verified)

and it would be quite funny were it not for the grave ramifications...

the decision basically said that you have the right to refuse entry to the police but you dont (since doing so necessarily creates the "exigency")...this decision was obviously very poorly thought out.. and it had to be..since there is simply no logical contortion (not even one the SCOTUS could concoct..and thats their specialty) that could defend such an action...

nor does the SCOTUS need to use convoluted logic anymore.. since this ruling effectively ends the rule of law...

Wed, 05/18/2011 - 3:01am Permalink
KeLeMi (not verified)

In 2004 they goofed on "Medical Marijuana" and "Eminent Domain". Then it was 3-6 and 4-5. Now it's 1-8. Getting worse.

Wed, 05/18/2011 - 9:14am Permalink
Callum Yeater (not verified)

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Wed, 05/18/2011 - 11:23am Permalink
noydb (not verified)

Another basic right gets trampled by the very people that we depend upon to protect us from such injustices.

We all might as well go move into glass houses as we certainly no longer have any expectations of privacy.

America is well on its way to becoming a police state, they just need to remove a couple more of those pesky freedoms.

Thu, 05/19/2011 - 2:04pm Permalink
Moonrider (not verified)

In reply to by noydb (not verified)

America has been a police state for at least 25 years if not longer.  They are just, finally, getting around to closing and locking the trap door.

Sat, 05/21/2011 - 3:51am Permalink
billy396 (not verified)

You'll notice that Kagan and Sotomayor had no trouble in shredding the Constitution.  A vote for Barack Obama is a vote for the end of a free, Constitutional Republic, one with the rule of law and private property rights.  By the way, my post that you censored only told the truth.  I would think that you'd want the American citizens to know the truth.

Thu, 05/19/2011 - 2:38pm Permalink
joebanana (not verified)

It's painfully obvious these justices have lost their "good behavior" status. The US constitution say's nothing about "exigent circumstances". The words "I thought" don't make circumstances "exigent". These judges are confusing "constitutional rights" with "law". Just like every other court in this country, the supreme court now has no credibility. If these judges aren't removed immediately it's a crime against the people of these united states. People the US justice system is no better than the Mafia, Al-Qaeda, or the Taliban. In fact evidence shows that our government has been infiltrated by these groups, and now we have a new war.

Thu, 05/19/2011 - 3:06pm Permalink

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.