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US Court Allows Search If Evidence Being Destroyed

Monday, 16 May 2011 05:17 PM

 

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* Obama administration, states supported the police

* Justices rule search warrant was not needed

By James Vicini

WASHINGTON(Reuters) - Police officers can enter a residence without a search warrant when they knock on the door, announce their presence and believe evidence is being destroyed, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.

By an 8-1 vote, the high court ruled that entering a residence in such emergency-like circumstances does not violate the constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures of evidence.

The decision adds to a string of recent rulings that have curtailed suspects' rights, while giving police more leeway to seize evidence in drug or other criminal cases.

In writing the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said the Kentucky Supreme Court was wrong to overturn a drug conviction and an 11-year prison sentence on the grounds the officers should have obtained a warrant before entering the residence.

The officers acted lawfully when they banged loudly on the door, announced their presence and kicked down the door after smelling marijuana and hearing noises that led them to believe evidence was about to be destroyed, he said.

Alito rejected the argument that the police had created or manufactured the emergency and should have foreseen that their conduct would have caused the occupants to attempt to destroy evidence.

The Obama administration and a number of states supported Kentucky in its argument that the search had been lawful.

Alito agreed and said there was no evidence the officers violated the Constitution's Fourth Amendment or threatened to do so.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the lone dissenter.

"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 and then break the door down, nevermind that they had ample time to obtain a warrant," she said.

The Supreme Court case is Kentucky v. King, No. 09-1272. (Editing by Mary Milliken and Bill Trott)

© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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