Pubdate: Sat, 28 May 2011
Source: Colusa County Sun-Herald (CA)
Copyright: 2011 Freedom Communications
Bookmark: (Drug Raids)


The next time police knock at your door, be careful what you do next. 
Any sound you make inside could grant police the authority to search 
your home without a warrant.

That's the result of last week's misguided Supreme Court decision 
expanding the definition of an exigent circumstance under which 
police can conduct a warrantless search. In an 8-1 ruling, the court 
created a new precedent that grants law enforcement the power to 
bypass a warrant based on arbitrary standards, which could be as 
minimal as "hearing" evidence being destroyed. We strongly disagree 
with the court because, in the words of dissenting Justice Ruth Bader 
Ginsburg, it "arms the police with a way routinely to dishonor the 
Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement."

The case of Kentucky v. King addressed the question of whether police 
can themselves create the emergency conditions to bypass the need for 
a warrant. While pursuing a drug suspect, police smelled marijuana 
from an apartment. They knocked on the door, identified themselves as 
police and then heard what sounded like evidence being destroyed. The 
knock at the door, the police argued, scared the suspects into 
destroying evidence, and thereby constituted the exigent circumstance 
to justify their warrantless search.

What does evidence being destroyed sound like? The court shrewdly 
tossed this crucial question back to the Kentucky Supreme Court. 
However, the high court offered a broad precedent that allows police 
the nearly unfettered power to manufacture an emergency. The court 
only explicitly excluded exigent circumstances where police violate 
or threaten to violate the Fourth Amendment.

Justice Ginsburg explained how this ruling will empower police to 
conduct more warrantless searches. "In lieu of presenting their 
evidence to a neutral magistrate, police officers may now knock, 
listen, then break the door down, nevermind that they had ample time 
to obtain a warrant," she explained in her dissenting opinion.

The process of obtaining a warrant doesn't just protect the accused; 
it also minimizes the number of "wrong door" police raids that injure 
and kill innocents. In this very case, police picked the wrong 
apartment that did not conceal their intended suspect. The Cato 
Institute, which tracks botched police raids, has called the problem 
"an epidemic of isolated incidents." We can expect more of them.

Defenders of liberty should be worried by this easy circumvention of 
the Fourth Amendment. It violates basic tenets of a free society: 
that individuals are presumed innocent; that our homes are our 
private sanctuaries; and that government can search our property only 
after obtaining a warrant.
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