U.S. Supreme Court

Do a Whiff of Pot and Suspicious Sounds Justify Police Search? Supreme Court Mulls Issue

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Supreme Court justices considered on Wednesday when police may knock down the door of an apartment that smells of marijuana.

In the Kentucky case before the court, police were following a suspect who had sold drugs to an undercover informant, according to the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. Police heard a door slam; a suspect had fled into one of two apartments.

The Post explains what happened next. “Behind door No. 1 was the dealer. And, unfortunately for him, behind door No. 2 were Hollis King and friends, smoking marijuana.” Police thought door No. 2 was the better choice, so they knocked loudly and announced themselves. After hearing a noise suggesting movement in the apartment, police feared evidence was being destroyed and knocked down the door.

At issue is whether the search was permissible under the “exigent circumstances” exception to the warrant requirement, the stories explain.

A majority appeared inclined to allow the search, according to the Los Angeles Times. The newspaper has this quote from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.: “There’s nothing illegal about walking down the hall and knocking on somebody’s door, and if, as a police officer, you say, ‘I smell marijuana,’ and then your hear the flushing, there’s probable cause,” he said.

The L.A. Times notes, however, that several liberal justices had been raised in New York City apartments, and they expressed disagreement with Roberts’ statement. If the court rules this way, “aren’t we just simply saying [police] can walk in whenever they smell marijuana without bothering with a warrant?” asked Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The case is Kentucky v. King.

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