The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case Kentucky v. King and has decided to hear the case for ruling. The gist of this case is that officers entered an apartment without a warrant based on their smelling marijuana and suspecting that, after knocking, those inside were destroying evidence. They kicked in the door and found both pot and cocaine as well as paraphernalia to go with them.
At the time, police were chasing a suspect they’d just bought drugs from. They lost him in the hallway for the apartments and knew he’d gone into one of two, so they made a guess and, as it turns out, chose the wrong door.
The question for the Kentucky v. King case is whether police can use their “suspicion” and, specifically, their belief that suspects may be destroying evidence, to conduct a warrantless search of someone’s home. A lot could hinge on the Supreme’s decision in this case and so far, it doesn’t look promising. Putting aside the argument over the Drug War and legalization for a moment, let’s look at the Forth Amendment ramifications of this case.
Justice Scalia is quoted in the Washington Post as saying that the police in this case did nothing wrong. The occupants of the apartment could have answered the door and refused them entry. Of course, that assumes the people in the apartment had time to answer the door. It’s not uncommon for police to serve “knock” warrants by knocking on the door, waiting two seconds for a response, and then kicking the door in. Further, Scalia’s statements ignore the other issue: whether police can use their suspicions of evidence being destroyed to trump the need for a warrant.
Justices Sotomayor and Ginsberg were more forthcoming on this point, being troubled by the prospect of police randomly wandering halls or neighborhoods on fishing expeditions. Worse, police could use the excuse of “suspecting drugs” and “that evidence was being destroyed” as cause to kick in just about anyone’s door at any time.
What wasn’t said, but should be, is that kicking in doors for the flimsiest of reasons (or none at all), even if the justification is created later, is the hallmark of a police state. In the darkest days of the USSR, East Berlin, Nazi Germany, and other places, police forces would routinely search homes and businesses with no warrant and often with little or no cause. It’s a small step from there to gulags and state-sanctioned theft.
The Fourth Amendment is not to be viewed as an obstacle to police. In every free society, law enforcement (and all other aspects of government) is the bad guy to be treated with careful consideration of its negative potential.
“Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” (George Washington)
So in the case of Kentucky v. King, it should be clear that the only reasons police should have for entering a home without a warrant are when the occupants voluntarily allow them to or when they have strong reason to believe someone’s life is in danger. Suspicion of “drug use” or “destruction of evidence” is no reason for kicking in doors.
The decision of the Supreme Court in this case could potentially destroy what is left of our right to privacy and security in our own homes.
[source The Agitator]