Kentucky v. King, 563 U.S. 452 (May. 16, 2011)

The Court reversed and remanded a decision of the Kentucky Supreme Court and held that the exigent circumstances rule applies when police, by knocking on the door of a residence and announcing their presence, cause the occupants to attempt to destroy evidence. Police officers set up a controlled buy of crack cocaine outside an apartment complex. After an undercover officer watched the deal occur, he radioed uniformed officers to move in, telling them that the suspect was moving quickly toward the breezeway of an apartment building and urging them to hurry before the suspect entered an apartment. As the uniformed officers ran into the breezeway, they heard a door shut and detected a strong odor of burnt marijuana. At the end of the breezeway they saw two apartments, one on the left and one on the right; they did not know which apartment the suspect had entered. Because they smelled marijuana coming from the apartment on the left, they approached that door, banged on it as loudly as they could and announced their presence as the police. They heard people and things moving inside, leading them to believe that drug related evidence was about to be destroyed. The officers then announced that they were going to enter, kicked in the door, and went in. They found three people inside: the defendant, his girlfriend, and a guest who was smoking marijuana. During a protective sweep, the officers saw marijuana and powder cocaine in plain view. In a subsequent search, they found crack cocaine, cash, and drug paraphernalia. The police eventually entered the apartment on the right, where they found the suspected drug dealer who was the initial target of their investigation. On these facts, the state supreme court determined that the exigent circumstances rule did not apply because the police should have foreseen that their conduct would prompt the occupants to attempt to destroy evidence. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected this interpretation stating, “the exigent circumstances rule justifies a warrantless search when the conduct of the police preceding the exigency is reasonable.” It concluded: “Where, as here, the police did not create the exigency by engaging or threatening to engage in conduct that violates the Fourth Amendment, warrantless entry to prevent the destruction of evidence is reasonable and thus allowed.” The Court did not rule on whether exigent circumstances existed in this case.