Tuesday, May 17, 2011

4th Amendment Protections Be Damned Supreme Court Oks Warrantless Searches

In was seems to be nothing more than the stripping of basic constitutional rights the Supreme Court reached an 8-1 decision in a case involving a defendants 4th Amendment right, against unreasonable searches and seizures. The ruling essentially removes the requirement for police officers to obtain a warrant supported by probable cause before they knock down the door to your home and enter if they hear noises that lead them to believe that evidence is being destroyed.

The case in question involved Kentucky police officers and a defendant that was charged from the resulting intrusion into a home based on the fact that the police officers smelt marijuana in the hallway of an apartment building. The police had not been investigating those charge they were instead chasing a suspect they believed was engaged in selling crack cocaine.

According to the reports:

Police in Lexington, Kentucky set up a “controlled buy” of cocaine. After the deal went down, the undercover officer (“Gibson”) who had watched from afar radioed uniformed police to apprehend the subject. However, because they had left their vehicles before following the suspect into an apartment complex, they never heard Gibson state over the radio that of the two apartments the police were considering, the suspect had in fact entered the apartment to the right. In the meantime, the police smelled marijuana coming from the apartment on the left. They had no idea that the suspected drug dealer, whom they subsequently caught as well, was in the other apartment.

The police announced themselves loudly and in no uncertain terms to the apartment on the left. As a result, they heard noise inside the apartment that sounded as though things were being moved inside the apartment. Suspecting that evidence was being destroyed, three officers entered the apartment without a warrant and found a variety of drugs and paraphenalia.

Prior to this ruling police officers had to have some form of reasonable cause and a search warrant before breaking into a home unless they believed there was an emergency or life or death situation occurring inside. Basically the cops couldn't enter your home on a whim. If the police heard someone screaming, they were free to break down a door and enter a home without a warrant. However, hearing a flushing toilet, and suspecting that illegal drugs were being destroyed, was not enough to allow them to enter without a court issued warant.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the only dissenting vote, expressed concern that allowing this type of police behavior would undermine the 4th Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

Ginsburg writes in her minority opinion –
The court today arms the police with a way routinely to dishonor the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement in drug cases. 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.

How ‘secure’ do our homes remain if police, armed with no warrant, can pound on doors at will and …forcibly enter?”

These seems like a very poorly thought out ruling to me. It may sound a bit alarmist but what the Supreme Court did today was essentially entirely strip you from your 4th Amendment Protections. The ruling basically says its ok to go door to door knock and force entry if they hear something they deem suspicious.

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