King v. Com., No. 2008-SC-000274-DG.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (Kentucky)
Citation302 S.W.3d 649
Docket NumberNo. 2008-SC-000274-DG.
PartiesHollis Deshaun KING, Appellant, v. COMMONWEALTH of Kentucky, Appellee.
Decision Date21 January 2010
302 S.W.3d 649
Hollis Deshaun KING, Appellant,
COMMONWEALTH of Kentucky, Appellee.
No. 2008-SC-000274-DG.
Supreme Court of Kentucky.
January 21, 2010.

[302 S.W.3d 651]

Jamesa J. Drake, Assistant Public Advocate, Department of Public Advocacy, Frankfort, KY, Counsel for Appellant.

Jack Conway, Attorney General, Johsua D. Farley, Assistant Attorney General, Attorney General's Office, Office of Criminal Appeals, Frankfort, KY, Counsel for Appellee.

Opinion of the Court by Justice SCHRODER.

At issue in this case is whether exigent circumstances existed, which justified the warrantless entry of the apartment occupied by Appellant Hollis Deshaun King. We hold that police were not in hot pursuit of a fleeing suspect, and that, with regard to the imminent destruction of evidence, any exigency was police-created. We also note that no "good faith" exception to the exclusionary rule applies in this case. We therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.


On the evening of October 13, 2005, Lexington-Fayette County police were conducting a "buy bust" operation at an apartment complex on Centre Parkway in Lexington. Police arranged for a confidential informant to purchase crack cocaine from a "street level" dealer. Officer Steven Cobb and several narcotics detectives were nearby in marked police cars waiting to make an arrest after a sale was complete.

After a suspected dealer sold crack cocaine to the confidential informant, undercover officer Gibbons gave a prearranged signal, informing officers to move in and make an arrest. As Cobb drove toward the location of the sale to make the arrest, Gibbons radioed a description of the suspect, and stated that he had entered a specific breezeway at the apartment complex. Cobb testified1 that Gibbons told officers to hurry, in order to keep the suspect from entering an apartment.

Cobb exited his vehicle, and continued toward the breezeway on foot with two narcotics detectives. After Cobb had exited his vehicle, Gibbons informed officers via radio that the suspect had entered the back right apartment. Because they were no longer near a radio, Cobb and the narcotics detectives did not hear this final piece of information. The officers heard a door slam shut, but did not see which apartment the suspect had entered.

When the officers reached the breezeway, they detected the "very strong odor of burnt marijuana." It soon became clear that the smell of marijuana was emanating from the back left apartment. Officer Cobb testified at the suppression hearing that this strong odor led him to believe that the left apartment door had been recently opened. However, Cobb stated that he did not know which door he had heard close.

Detective Maynard, one of the narcotics detectives, knocked loudly on the back left apartment door and announced "police." The three officers then heard movement

302 S.W.3d 652

inside the apartment, which lead the officers to believe that evidence was about to be destroyed.

At this point, the officers made a forced entry into the left apartment. As the circuit court noted in its findings of fact, when asked to articulate the reasons which he thought justified the forced entry, Cobb testified that the officers thought (1) that a crime was occurring based on the strong odor of marijuana, and (2) that evidence was possibly being destroyed based on the sound of movement inside the apartment.

Cobb kicked the back left apartment door open, and officers performed an initial protective sweep looking for the original suspect. Though police did not find the suspected drug dealer, they found three people sitting on couches in the apartment: Jamela Washington, Clarence Johnson, and Appellant Hollis King. Johnson was smoking marijuana, while Washington and King sat nearby. Police found approximately 25 grams of marijuana and 4.6 ounces of powder cocaine in plain view. Upon further search, police found crack cocaine, scales with cocaine residue, $2500 in cash, three cell phones, and other drug paraphernalia. Police eventually entered the back right apartment, and found the suspected drug dealer who had been the original target.

King and his co-defendants argued that the police's entry into the apartment was unlawful, and filed motions to suppress all evidence obtained as a result of that entry. Following a suppression hearing, the circuit court issued extensive Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and an Opinion and Order. As a preliminary matter, the circuit court concluded that King had standing to challenge the search.2 Next, the court concluded that the smell of marijuana gave the officers probable cause to continue with their investigation. And finally, the court concluded that the lack of response to the knock on the door—coupled with the sound of movement, which the officers believed to be the destruction of evidence—created the requisite exigent circumstances to justify a warrantless entry. Therefore, the circuit court denied King's motion to suppress evidence.

King entered a conditional guilty plea, reserving the right to appeal the circuit court's denial of his motion to suppress. The circuit court found King guilty of trafficking in a controlled substance; possession of marijuana; and persistent felony offender, second degree (PFO II). For the trafficking charge, the court imposed a sentence of five years' imprisonment, enhanced to ten years by King's PFO status. For the possession charge, the court imposed a sentence of twelve months in jail.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals found fault with the circuit court's conclusions of law. The Court concluded that smelling burning marijuana, knocking on the door, and hearing movement within the residence cannot justify a warrantless entry. Rather, the Court of Appeals noted, such a search is invalid if the police created their own exigent circumstances. Nevertheless, the Court of Appeals concluded that, "under the circumstances of this case," police did not create their own exigency because they did not engage in deliberate and intentional conduct to evade the warrant requirement, citing United States v. Chambers, 395 F.3d 563, 566 (6th Cir.2005). The Court of Appeals also noted a "good faith" exception, and affirmed the circuit court's judgment.3 This Court then granted discretionary review.

302 S.W.3d 653

We apply a two-prong test when reviewing a trial court's ruling on a suppression motion following a hearing. Stewart v. Commonwealth, 44 S.W.3d 376, 380 (Ky.App.2000). First, the circuit court's factual findings are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. Id.; RCr 9.78. However, we conduct "a de novo review to determine whether the court's decision is correct as a matter of law." Stewart, 44 S.W.3d at 380.

Upon review of the record, we conclude that the circuit court's findings of fact were supported by substantial evidence, and are therefore conclusive. We now conduct a de novo review of the law as applied to the circuit court's findings of fact.

A. Police Did Not Have Proper Exigent Circumstances to Justify a Warrantless Entry

It is well established that, under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, police may not conduct a warrantless search or seizure within a private residence unless there exist both (1) probable cause and (2) exigent circumstances.4 Kirk v. Louisiana, 536 U.S. 635, 638, 122 S.Ct. 2458, 153 L.Ed.2d 599 (2002); Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 100 S.Ct. 1371, 63 L.Ed.2d 639 (1980). Any other search is per se unreasonable. Id. at 587, 100 S.Ct. 1371.

Both parties agree that the smell of burning marijuana created probable cause, which would have been sufficient for the police to obtain a warrant to search the back left apartment. Because the police chose not to seek a warrant, we must now address whether there existed exigent circumstances to justify the warrantless entry. The Commonwealth argues that two types of exigent circumstances justified the warrantless entry: (1) "hot pursuit," and (2) imminent destruction of evidence. We address each of these in the context of this case.

1. The Police Were Not In Hot Pursuit of a Fleeing Suspect

The "hot pursuit" of a fleeing suspect (when accompanied by probable cause as required by Payton) is an exigent circumstance justifying the warrantless entry of a home. United States v. Santana, 427 U.S. 38, 42-43, 96 S.Ct. 2406, 49 L.Ed.2d 300 (1976); Warden v. Hayden, 387 U.S. 294, 298-99, 87 S.Ct. 1642, 18 L.Ed.2d 782 (1967); Styles v. Commonwealth, 507 S.W.2d 487, 488 (Ky.1974). See also Minnesota v. Olson, 495 U.S. 91, 100-01, 110 S.Ct. 1684, 109 L.Ed.2d 85 (1990) (reaffirming hot pursuit exception).

An important element of the hot pursuit exception is the suspect's knowledge that he is, in fact, being pursued. Santana, 427 U.S. at 43, 96 S.Ct. 2406; see also State v. Nichols, 225 Ga.App. 609, 484 S.E.2d 507, 508 (1997) ("Rather, the key to `hot pursuit' is that the defendant is aware he is being pursued by the police, and is therefore likely to disappear or destroy evidence of his wrongdoing if the officer takes the time to get a warrant."). In this case, uniformed officers were in pursuit of the suspected drug dealer, but there is no evidence that he was aware of this. According to testimony at the suppression hearing, the suspect sold drugs to a confidential

302 S.W.3d 654

informant, and then returned to his apartment.

Officer Cobb testified that police officers had hurried to the scene to prevent the suspect from entering an apartment. Although the suspect entered an apartment before he could be apprehended, there was no testimony that police feared he would escape. Nothing in these circumstances created an exigency that would have made it impracticable for the police to post officers in the breezeway and obtain a warrant. For these reasons, there was no hot pursuit justifying the warrantless entry of the back left apartment.

2. The Warrantless Entry Was Not...

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