Ky. Supreme Court ruling overturned

By Lauren Letsinger

In pursuit of a suspect who had sold cocaine to a police informant, city police were led to an apartment that smelled of burning marijuana.

After knocking and hearing what sounded like evidence being destroyed, officers entered and searched the apartment without a warrant.

The incident resulted in Kentucky v. King case No. 09-1272. According to The New York Times, the police, who believed their original suspect lived in the apartment, heard sounds of evidence being destroyed. After knocking and announcing their presence with no response, police kicked down resident Hollis D. King’s apartment door and began searching.

The Kentucky Supreme Court suppressed the evidence after concluding that it was not valid since the police searched without a warrant. They ruled that the risk of evidence being destroyed was the result of police creating their own emergency circumstance that would allow them to search without a warrant.

The United States Supreme Court overturned that ruling on May 16. It ruled that police acted lawfully and had probable cause needed in order to enter the apartment without a warrant.

Sarah Welling, a UK law professor, said that defending Justice Ruth Ginsburg had a good point in her argument that police should not be allowed to knock and announce themselves, then proceed to search without a warrant because they think evidence is being destroyed.

“If police come and knock saying, ‘Hi, we are the police we are out here,’ they are hoping to hear movement to allow them to enter or be able to get the consent,” Welling said. “The problem is using their startle or alarm to get them inside when they could just get a warrant. If they created the emergency by startling the people and then they burst in, then there has been an exception to the exception created.”

Ann Gordon, a senior law major, agreed with the initial Kentucky Supreme Court ruling.

“The police busted down the door to the wrong apartment,” Gordon said. “Of course Hollis King was not expecting them there so he probably panicked at that moment not considering his constitutional rights, like telling them they could not enter without a warrant, for example. He didn’t have the time to think about it before the police entered his apartment looking for somebody else.”

Economics major Dudley Sewell, disagreed.

“Although the police entered the wrong apartment, they at first believed that their suspect lived there,” Sewell said. “If they heard evidence being destroyed then they needed to search the apartment before that could happen. After realizing it was the wrong apartment, they still had a drug case on their hands that had to be dealt with.”

Welling said King could have opted not to answer the door or answer and not speak to police.

“He didn’t have to allow the police in,” Welling said. “He should have stood on his constitutional rights. However, he didn’t know that.”