Kentucky v. King

In Kentucky v. King the United States Supreme Court held that a warrantless entry based on exigent circumstances is reasonable when the police did not create the exigency by engaging or threatening to engage in conduct violating the Fourth Amendment. During the course of a controlled drug bust, officers in pursuit of a suspected drug dealer smelled marijuana smoke emanating from an apartment. Believing the suspect to be inside, officers preceded to bang on the apartment door “as loud as [they] could” announcing “This is the police” or “Police, police, police.” Upon hearing sounds that led the officers to believe that drug-related evidence was about to be destroyed, the officers announced that they “were going to make entry inside the apartment,” at which time they discovered evidence of drugs.

At trial, defendants contended that an exigency is impermissibly created when officers engage in conduct that would cause a reasonable person to believe that entry was imminent and inevitable. However, the Court rejected this view, determining that the ability of officers to respond to an exigency cannot turn on such subtleties as the officers’ tone of voice in announcing their presence and the forcefulness of their knocks. It further rejected the “bad faith,” “reasonable foreseeability,” “probable cause and time to secure a warrant,” and “standard or good investigative tactics” standards employed by the lower courts. Instead, the Court reasoned that in the vast majority of cases in which persons who are engaged in illegal conduct destroy evidence, the reason for the destruction is fear that the evidence will fall into the hands of law enforcement. Consequently, a rule that precludes the police from making a warrantless entry to prevent the destruction of evidence whenever their conduct causes the exigency would unreasonably shrink the reach of the exception. Thus, the Court concluded 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. Because, in this case, the officers did not inform defendants they would make entry until after the exigency arose, the Court concluded that there was no evidence of a Fourth Amendment violation, and remanded for further proceedings consistent with the established standard.

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Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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