Cops Can Kick Your Door Down If They Smell Weed, Supreme Court Rules
Now you have another thing to get anxious about while smoking grass in the comfort of your own home (in addition to the surveillance microphones your landlord embedded in your walls). The Supreme Court has ruled that if cops are passing by your hotbox and they smell reefer, they're legally entitled to kick your door down without a warrant if they think you're destroying evidence and you don't open up. It's going to mean big business for the rolled towel and incense companies, but a tough break for anyone who struggles with paranoia after doing a J. Did you hear those sirens? I think there are cops in the building! I HEAR THEM KNOCKING RIGHT NOW—IN PERFECT TIME WITH BONHAM'S DRUM SOLO!
In an 8-1 decision [pdf], the Supreme Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment, which states that "the right of the people to be secure in their per sons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreason able searches and seizures, shall not be violated," doesn't apply here, because "'the exigencies of the situation' make the needs of law en forcement so compelling that [a] warrantless search is objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment." The decision comes in response to a case that originated in Kentucky's court system, in which:
Police officers in Lexington, Kentucky, followed a suspected drug dealer to an apartment complex. They smelled marijuana outside an apartment door, knocked loudly, and announced their presence. As soon as the officers began knocking, they heard noises coming from the apartment; the officers believed that these noises were consistent with the destruction of evidence. The officers announced their intent to enter the apartment, kicked in the door, and found respondent and others. They saw drugs in plain view during a protective sweep of the apartment and found additional evidence during a subsequent search.
If you think it's worth noting that this was not the drug dealer's apartment, you're probably a hippie like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who issued the lone dissent. "The court today arms the police with a way routinely to dishonor the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement in drug cases," Justice Ginsburg wrote. "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." Ginsburg also pointed out that the sounds of noises in the apartment are far too vague to be strictly interpreted as destruction of evidence, and referred to a 1948 ruling, Johnson v. United States, which declared warrantless searches "unreasonable":
The Court confronted this scenario: standing outside a hotel room, the police smelled burning opium and heard “some shuffling or noise” coming from the room. 333 U. S., at 12 (internal quotation marks omitted). Could the police enter the room without a warrant? The Court answered no. Explaining why, the Court said: “The right of officers to thrust themselves into a home is a grave concern, not only to the individual but to a society which chooses to dwell in reasonable security and freedom from surveillance. When the right of privacy must reasonably yield to the right of search is, as a rule, to be decided by a judicial officer, not a policeman... If the officers in this case were excused from the constitutional duty of presenting their evidence to a magistrate, it is difficult to think of [any] case in which [a warrant] should be required."