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Supreme Court Upholds Warrantless Marijuana Odor Search

By Robin Enos | Last updated on

If police smell a marijuana odor, and hear movement or a flushing toilet, they can break down your door. And if police, after smelling and hearing, conduct a warrantless search, Kentucky courts following U.S. Supreme Court precedent will now refuse to suppress the evidence found, reports the Associated Press.

The Kentucky Supreme Court had ruled that marijuana and pills seized after police smelled burning marijuana, then broke down the door to an apartment, had been seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

In Kentucky v. King, in an 8-1 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Kentucky high court ruling. Only Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, reports AP.

Hollis King had an apartment in Lexington. Police were chasing another man suspected of a crime. They smelled marijuana from the hallway outside King's door. They knocked on the door, and shouted "Police, police, police."

Then officers heard movement inside King's apartment. Concluding someone inside was trying to destroy incriminating evidence, the officers broke down the door. They found King and others with marijuana and pills, reports AP.

The issue considered by the U.S. Supreme Court was whether, consistent with the Fourth Amendment, police should have obtained a warrant before entering King's apartment by force.

The Court stated that people have no obligation to respond to a police knock.

But "[o]ccupants who choose not to stand on their constitutional rights but instead elect to attempt to destroy evidence have only themselves to blame," reasoned Justice Samuel Alito for the majority.

The Supreme Court remanded the case back to Kentucky for further hearing on whether the police acted reasonably.

But where police have arrived in pursuit of a fleeing suspect, and have no way of knowing which door the suspect ducked into, the Court has now sanctioned a "reasonable belief" by police. If police detect a marijuana odor, and hear movement, their reasonable belief that a crime is in progress justifies breaking down the door. And once the police are inside, anything in their plain view is fair game, including drugs. With a warrant, or after this new decision from Kentucky, in a warrantless search.

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