SCOTUS Rules It’s O.K. For Cops to Search Without a Warrant If They Smell Marijuana Smoke

The U.S. Supreme Court made an important Fourth Amendment ruling this afternoon that may have effect on marijuana smokers and their protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. It’s a tricky issue that concerns whether or not police need a warrant to enter a residence under the suspicion that evidence otherwise might be destroyed. It essentially helps define probable cause as noise and marijuana smoke as grounds for the police to enter a residence without a warrant. Via the Washington Post:

The court ruled 8 to 1 that Kentucky police who smelled marijuana at an apartment door, knocked loudly and announced themselves, and then kicked in the door when they thought the drugs were being destroyed did nothing wrong.

Here is the sparknotes version of the ruling, via NORML: “When they smell it, they can knock on your door and then break it down, claiming they heard noises from within.” There’s fear that the interpretation allows cops probable cause to conduct a warrant-less search by claiming they smelled pot and heard noises, even if there’s absolutely no substance present and random noises are just a figment of an officer’s imagination. Read full reports and educate yourself at the Washington Post and L.A. Times. See Below for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s strong dissent from the ruling.

“The Court today arms the police with a way routinely to dishonor the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement in drug cases. 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. I dissent from the Court’s reduction of the Fourth Amendment’s force. …

“Wasting a clear opportunity to obtain a warrant,” therefore, “disentitles the officer from relying on subsequent exigent circumstances.” As that court observed, nothing made it impracticable for the police to post officers on the premises while proceeding to obtain a warrant authorizing their entry. …

In Johnson, the Court confronted this scenario: standing outside a hotel room, the police smelled burning opium and heard “some shuffling or noise” coming from the room. Could the police enter the room without a warrant? The Court answered no. Explaining why, the Court said: “The right of officers to thrust themselves into a home is … a grave concern, not only to the individual but to a society which chooses to dwell in reasonable security and freedom from surveillance. When the right of privacy must reasonably yield to the right of search is, as a rule, to be decided by a judicial officer, not a policeman … “If the officers in this case were excused from the constitutional duty of presenting their evidence to a magistrate, it is difficult to think of [any] case in which [a warrant] should be required.”

I agree, and would not allow an expedient knock to override the warrant requirement. Instead, I would accord that core requirement of the Fourth Amendment full respect. When possible, “a warrant must generally be secured,” the Court acknowledges. There is every reason to conclude that securing a warrant was entirely feasible in this case, and no reason to contract the Fourth Amendment’s dominion.”

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