Kentuchy v. King

Decision Date16 May 2011
Docket NumberNo. 09–1272.,09–1272.
Citation563 U.S. 452,131 S.Ct. 1849,179 L.Ed.2d 865
Parties KENTUCKY, Petitioner, v. Hollis Deshaun KING.
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Joshua D. Farley, Frankfort, KY, for petitioner.

Ann O'Connell, Washington, DC, for United States as amicus curiae, by special leave of the Court, supporting the petitioner.

Jamesa J. Drake, Frankfort, KY, for respondent.

Jack Conway, Attorney General of Kentucky, Joshua D. Farley, Counsel of Record, Bryan D. Morrow, Assistant Attorneys General, Frankfort, KY, for Petitioner Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Jeffrey T. Green, Sarah O'Rourke Schrup, Northwestern University, Supreme Court Practicum, Chicago, IL, Jamesa J. Drake, Counsel of Record, Asst. Public Advocate, Kentucky Department of Advocacy, Frankfort, KY, for Respondent Hollis Deshaun King.

Justice ALITO delivered the opinion of the Court.

It is well established that "exigent circumstances," including the need to prevent the destruction of evidence, permit police officers to conduct an otherwise permissible search without first obtaining a warrant. In this case, we consider whether this rule applies when police, by knocking on the door of a residence and announcing their presence, cause the occupants to attempt to destroy evidence. The Kentucky Supreme Court held that the exigent circumstances rule does not apply in the case at hand because the police should have foreseen that their conduct would prompt the occupants to attempt to destroy evidence. We reject this interpretation of the exigent circumstances rule. The conduct of the police prior to their entry into the apartment was entirely lawful. They did not violate the Fourth Amendment or threaten to do so. In such a situation, the exigent circumstances rule applies.

I
A

This case concerns the search of an apartment in Lexington, Kentucky. Police officers set up a controlled buy of crack cocaine outside an apartment complex. Undercover Officer Gibbons watched the deal take place from an unmarked car in a nearby parking lot. After the deal occurred, Gibbons radioed uniformed officers to move in on the suspect. He told the officers that the suspect was moving quickly toward the breezeway of an apartment building, and he urged them to "hurry up and get there" before the suspect entered an apartment. App. 20.

In response to the radio alert, the uniformed officers drove into the nearby parking lot, left their vehicles, and ran to the breezeway. Just as they entered the breezeway, they heard a door shut and detected a very strong odor of burnt marijuana. At the end of the breezeway, the officers saw two apartments, one on the left and one on the right, and they did not know which apartment the suspect had entered. Gibbons had radioed that the suspect was running into the apartment on the right, but the officers did not hear this statement because they had already left their vehicles. Because they smelled marijuana smoke emanating from the apartment on the left, they approached the door of that apartment.

Officer Steven Cobb, one of the uniformed officers who approached the door, testified that the officers banged on the left apartment door "as loud as [they] could" and announced, " 'This is the police' " or " 'Police, police, police.' " Id., at 22–23. Cobb said that "[a]s soon as [the officers] started banging on the door," they "could hear people inside moving," and "[i]t sounded as [though] things were being moved inside the apartment." Id., at 24. These noises, Cobb testified, led the officers to believe that drug-related evidence was about to be destroyed.

At that point, the officers announced that they "were going to make entry inside the apartment." Ibid. Cobb then kicked in the door, the officers entered the apartment, and they found three people in the front room: respondent Hollis King, respondent's girlfriend, and a guest who was smoking marijuana.1 The officers performed a protective sweep of the apartment during which they saw marijuana and powder cocaine in plain view. In a subsequent search, they also discovered crack cocaine, cash, and drug paraphernalia.

Police eventually entered the apartment on the right. Inside, they found the suspected drug dealer who was the initial target of their investigation.

B

In the Fayette County Circuit Court, a grand jury charged respondent with trafficking in marijuana, first-degree trafficking in a controlled substance, and second-degree persistent felony offender status. Respondent filed a motion to suppress the evidence from the warrantless search, but the Circuit Court denied the motion. The Circuit Court concluded that the officers had probable cause to investigate the marijuana odor and that the officers "properly conducted [the investigation] by initially knocking on the door of the apartment unit and awaiting the response or consensual entry." App. to Pet. for Cert. 9a. Exigent circumstances justified the warrantless entry, the court held, because "there was no response at all to the knocking," and because "Officer Cobb heard movement in the apartment which he reasonably concluded were persons in the act of destroying evidence, particularly narcotics because of the smell." Ibid. Respondent then entered a conditional guilty plea, reserving his right to appeal the denial of his suppression motion. The court sentenced respondent to 11 years' imprisonment.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals affirmed. It held that exigent circumstances justified the warrantless entry because the police reasonably believed that evidence would be destroyed. The police did not impermissibly create the exigency, the court explained, because they did not deliberately evade the warrant requirement.

The Supreme Court of Kentucky reversed. 302 S.W.3d 649 (2010). As a preliminary matter, the court observed that there was "certainly some question as to whether the sound of persons moving [inside the apartment] was sufficient to establish that evidence was being destroyed." Id., at 655. But the court did not answer that question. Instead, it "assume[d] for the purpose of argument that exigent circumstances existed." Ibid.

To determine whether police impermissibly created the exigency, the Supreme Court of Kentucky announced a two-part test. First, the court held, police cannot "deliberately creat[e] the exigent circumstances with the bad faith intent to avoid the warrant requirement." Id., at 656 (internal quotation marks omitted). Second, even absent bad faith, the court concluded, police may not rely on exigent circumstances if "it was reasonably foreseeable that the investigative tactics employed by the police would create the exigent circumstances." Ibid. (internal quotation marks omitted). Although the court found no evidence of bad faith, it held that exigent circumstances could not justify the search because it was reasonably foreseeable that the occupants would destroy evidence when the police knocked on the door and announced their presence. Ibid.

We granted certiorari. 561 U.S. ––––, 131 S.Ct. 61, 177 L.Ed.2d 1150 (2010).2

II
A

The Fourth Amendment provides:

"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."

The text of the Amendment thus expressly imposes two requirements. First, all searches and seizures must be reasonable. Second, a warrant may not be issued unless probable cause is properly established and the scope of the authorized search is set out with particularity. See Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 584, 100 S.Ct. 1371, 63 L.Ed.2d 639 (1980).

Although the text of the Fourth Amendment does not specify when a search warrant must be obtained, this Court has inferred that a warrant must generally be secured. "It is a 'basic principle of Fourth Amendment law,' " we have often said, " 'that searches and seizures inside a home without a warrant are presumptively unreasonable.' " Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403, 126 S.Ct. 1943, 164 L.Ed.2d 650 (2006) (quoting Groh v. Ramirez, 540 U.S. 551, 559, 124 S.Ct. 1284, 157 L.Ed.2d 1068 (2004) ). But we have also recognized that this presumption may be overcome in some circumstances because "[t]he ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is 'reasonableness.' " Brigham City, supra, at 403, 126 S.Ct. 1943; see also Michigan v. Fisher, 558 U.S. 45, ––––, 130 S.Ct. 546, 548, 175 L.Ed.2d 410 (2009)(per curiam) . Accordingly, the warrant requirement is subject to certain reasonable exceptions. Brigham City, supra, at 403, 126 S.Ct. 1943.

One well-recognized exception applies when " 'the exigencies of the situation' make the needs of law enforcement so compelling that [a] warrantless search is objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment." Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 394, 98 S.Ct. 2408, 57 L.Ed.2d 290 (1978) ; see also Payton, supra, at 590, 100 S.Ct. 1371 ("[T]he Fourth Amendment has drawn a firm line at the entrance to the house. Absent exigent circumstances, that threshold may not reasonably be crossed without a warrant").

This Court has identified several exigencies that may justify a warrantless search of a home. See Brigham City, 547 U.S., at 403, 126 S.Ct. 1943. Under the "emergency aid" exception, for example, "officers may enter a home without a warrant to render emergency assistance to an injured occupant or to protect an occupant from imminent injury." Ibid.; see also, e.g., Fisher, supra, at ––––, 130 S.Ct. at 548 (upholding warrantless home entry based on emergency aid exception). Police officers may enter premises without a warrant when they are in hot pursuit of a fleeing suspect. See United States v. Santana, 427 U.S. 38, 42–43, 96 S.Ct. 2406, 49 L.Ed.2d 300 (1976). And—what is relevant here—the need "to prevent the imminent destruction of evidence" has long been...

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