Charles Doyle Senior Specialist in American Public Law
Authorities may enter and search a home without a warrant if they have probable cause and reason to believe that evidence is being destroyed within the home. So declared the United States Supreme Court in an 8-1 decision, Kentucky v. King, 131 S.Ct. 1849 (2011)(No. 09-1272).
The Kentucky Supreme Court had overturned King’s conviction for marijuana possession and drug dealing, because the evidence upon which it was based had been secured following a warrantless search which failed to conform with that court’s restrictions under its “police-created exigencies” doctrine.
The Fourth Amendment usually permits authorities to search a home only if they have both probable cause and a warrant. The warrant requirement may be excused in the presence of exigent circumstances, for instance, when it appears the occupants are attempting to flee or to destroy evidence. Leery lest authorities create exigent circumstances to avoid the warrant requirement, some state and lower federal courts had adopted one form or another of a police-created exigencies doctrine.
The Court rejected each of these and endorsed searches conducted under the exigent circumstance exception, unless authorities had created the exigency by threatening to, or engaging in, activities which themselves violated the Fourth Amendment.
In order to reach the question of limitations on police-created exigencies, the Court assumed the existence of exigent circumstances in King. The concerns from which the police-created exigencies doctrine emerged may now give rise to more stringent standards for what qualifies as an exigency.
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