01/12/2011

SCOTUS to review warrantless entry

The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing an appeal today in a case that could clarify rules for when police can conduct searches without a warrant

By Mark Sherman
Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Hollis King and his two friends might be the unluckiest pot smokers in Kentucky.

The three men were sitting around King's apartment in Lexington, Ky., on a Thursday night in October 2005, when police officers knocked on the front door, then kicked it in. They did not have a search warrant.

The police were looking for a man who fled into an apartment building after selling cocaine to an informant. They heard a door slam in a hallway, but by the time they were able to look down it, they saw only two closed doors.

They didn't know which one the suspect had gone through, but, smelling the aroma of burnt pot, chose the apartment on the left.

Their quarry had gone into the apartment on the right. But in King's place, they found one person smoking pot and a small amount of cocaine and money, and arrested King and his friends.

King pleaded guilty to drug charges, but the Kentucky Supreme Court threw out the evidence against him and the conviction, ruling that the police did not have cause to burst into his home without a warrant.

The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing the state's appeal of that ruling Wednesday, in a case that could clarify rules for when police can conduct searches without a warrant.

The police contend they entered the apartment because they heard noises they thought might indicate that evidence was being destroyed. King says the noises they heard were people moving around in response to the commotion in the hallway.

And what of the original suspect? The police eventually found him in the apartment on the right. But prosecutors later dropped charges against him for reasons that are not explained in court papers.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press

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