Criminal Justice Update
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Criminal Justice Update

In the Courts


By Laura Eddleman Heim

In Kentucky v. King, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in May that police can enter an apartment without a warrant to prevent the imminent destruction of evidence as long as they do not engage or threaten to engage in conduct that violates the Fourth Amendment.

After observing a controlled drug buy, officers in Lexington, Ky., followed a suspected drug dealer into an apartment complex. Upon entering the complex, the officers heard an apartment door shut, but they could not tell which apartment the suspect entered.

The officers smelled burnt marijuana coming from one of the apartments, knocked loudly on that apartment door, and called out, “Police.”

They heard people moving inside the apartment, leading them to conclude that drug-related evidence was about to be destroyed. The officers announced their intent to enter, kicked in the door, and found Hollis King and two others. They spotted drugs and drug paraphernalia in plain view, and prosecutors brought criminal charges against King.

King objected to the lawfulness of the officers’ entry. He argued that the rule allowing police to enter a home without a warrant in emergency situations when the destruction of evidence is imminent does not apply when the officers’ own conduct (here, knocking on the door) created the emergency.

The court disagreed, finding that the entry was lawful.

Law enforcement officers long have been permitted to enter premises without a warrant when necessary to prevent the imminent destruction of evidence.

And, the court said, as long as officers do not engage in or threaten to engage in conduct that violates the Fourth Amendment, they may continue to do so when such emergencies arise.

Laura Eddleman Heim is a Simon Karas Fellow and deputy solicitor general with the Ohio Attorney General’s Appeals Section.