Supreme Court Case Review: Kentucky v. King, opinion dated May 16, 2011:
Officers set up a controlled buy of crack cocaine outside an apartment complex. After the deal, the suspect went into the apartment building. Officers followed the suspect into a breezeway where they saw two apartments, one on the left and one on the right. The officers did not see which apartment the suspect entered. The officers smelled marijuana smoke emanating from the apartment on the left as they approached the door. One of the officers knocked loudly on the door an announced, “Police, police, police.” The officers did not demand entry or threaten to break down the door. As soon as the officer started banging on the door, he heard noises that led him to believe that drug related evidence was being destroyed inside the apartment. At this point, the officers announced they were going to enter the apartment and they kicked down the door. Once inside the apartment the officers performed a protective sweep and recovered marijuana and powder cocaine in plain view. Officers eventually entered the apartment on the right and found the suspected drug dealer who was the initial target of their investigation.
One well recognized exception to the warrant requirement applies when the exigencies of the situation makes the needs of law enforcement so compelling that a warrantless search is objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The need to prevent the imminent destruction of evidence has been identified as one of the exigencies that may justify the warrantless search of a home. Where, as here, the police do 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.
When officers who do not have a warrant knock on a door, they do no more than any private citizen might do, and the occupant has no obligation to open the door or speak to them. It was only after the officers knocked on the door and announced, “Police, police, police,” did the exigency arise. Because the officers did not violate or threaten to violate the Fourth Amendment by demanding entry, or threatening to enter the apartment, the court held that the exigency that arose afterward justified the officers’ warrantless entry into the apartment.