Supreme Court: It’s Ok For Cops To Break Into Your House Without A Warrant

The one caveat on the statement in the headline is that they can break down your door and enter your home without a warrant if they think you’re destroying evidence. Previously they needed probable cause to believe that some imminently dangerous crime was being committed inside. Now the police can just say they thought they heard you flushing weed down the toilet or something to justify their kicking in your door.

WASHINGTON — The police do not need a warrant to enter a home if they smell burning marijuana, knock loudly, announce themselves and hear what they think is the sound of evidence being destroyed, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday in an 8-to-1 decision.

The issue as framed by the majority was a narrow one. It assumed there was good reason to think evidence was being destroyed, and asked only whether the conduct of the police had impermissibly caused the destruction.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the majority, said police officers do not violate the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches by kicking down a door after the occupants of an apartment react to hearing that officers are there by seeming to destroy evidence.

It’s not often I find myself agreeing with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but I think her dissent is spot-on:

“The court today arms the police with a way routinely to dishonor the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement in drug cases,” Justice Ginsburg wrote. “In lieu of presenting their evidence to a neutral magistrate, police officers may now knock, listen, then break the door down, never mind that they had ample time to obtain a warrant.”

The idea of cops breaking in to stop the destruction of evidence may not strike you as being all that controversial. But keep in mind that they’ll be basing their justification for trampling your 4th amendment rights on something as subjective as what they may or may not be hearing. If your television plays the sound of a toilet flushing, that could be enough justification for them to come barging in.

What this ruling does, in effect, is water down your 4th amendment rights to the point where whether or not you have them in a given moment is up to the subjective opinions of law enforcement officers. And while there are good, scrupulous cops out there not all of them have exceedingly high standards when it comes to respecting your privacy.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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  • Jamermorrow

    Police will abuse this as they do everything else. Ginsburg’s dissent was spot on. I am really disappointed with Alito’s opinion. This will open up a whole new ere in law enforcement.  

  • DopeyDem

    This is no different when a police dog smells drugs in a car at the border. No warrant needed to take the car apart looking for drugs. Once again, only those breaking the law need to worry about a ruling like this.
     

    • Jamermorrow

      So you have never broke any laws? Who knows what new laws will be enacted. One day gun owning, gold owning, home schooling conservatives may be labeled as terrorists or criminals. You are the reason why government always gets bigger when Republicans are in charge. 

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      So if a drug dog just happens to alert on my car the cops are free to search it with no repercussions if the dog was, you know, wrong?  if the dog was, you know, wrong? 

    • 2hotel9

       Really? Why don’t you ask the Jews of Germany about that? Oh, most of them were killed by the State. Never mind.

    • headward

       They take everything apart and may damage your property.  Then you have to put everything back together.  Nothing like spending hours out of your day for nothing.

  • Grizzler

    The great lies we tell our children early on in thier lives: That jesus loves you(for the bioble told us so lol ), that santa clause brings you presents on jesus birthday(christmas), that the easter bunny brings eggs on jesus is a zombie day(easter), and that the police are your friend. No wonder people are so messed up….  

  • Grizzler

    And, can anyone please tell me why its not the easter chicken? That would at least make a tiny bit more sense. 

    • JustRuss

      Eggs and Rabbits are both fertility symbols and Easter (from the Latin Oestrus: female animals readiness to mate; Heat) is a Pagan celebration of spring and fertility. It was co-opted by the Catholic Church by placing the celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection during the same time period. That way it was easier to convert the pagans by letting them keep their holiday; the same for All Hallows Eve (Halloween) and Christmas (winter solstice). 

      Yes we Christians are a funky bunch, all thanks to the Catholic church, even us Protestants can’t shake the traditions set forth by Pagan ancestors.

      Oh well.

  • 2hotel9

    So, according to the Supreme Court police own citizens and can do anything they want to us. OK, whatever anti-American c*cksuckers.

  • DopeyDem

    Flagged for review? Really? Go back and read the damn article. It’s a narrow ruling meaning it only applies to this one circumstance. The 4th amendment still stands untouched. You all should be much more concerned about the ruling that just took place in Indiana than this one. I hope all of you never have to worry about a cop getting a warrant when he sees you in the window with someone holding a gun to your head. Morons. 

    • JustRuss

      The problem is the decision wasn’t narrow enough so that now precedent might have been set to expand just what Probable Cause means. I agree though, I’m not terribly upset either way with this case compared to the Indiana case.

  • JustRuss

    This is a separate case from the one that says “You have no right to resist what you perceive to be illegal search/entry with force” right? In that case, I said the police were most likely right to enter in that case because they had probable cause, but that the court went one step too far in making a blatant statement in regards to the fourth amendment.

    In this case I can see an argument for both sides, on the one hand I believe Probable Cause is enough, on the other hand the SC appears to be expanding the definition of Probable Cause which has historically been kept rather vague and narrow.

    The decision should have been more narrow, rather than finding a new definition of Probable Cause where there is none, they should have limited themselves to whether or not the police in that specific case had Probable Cause.

  • 308T

     I have a bathroom right next to one of my house doors. If the jackboo…errr police are at my door and hear the toilet flush they can kick the door in? What happens when my door flies open and I unload a mag full of 9mm thinking it was some crack head that just exploded my door? I guess I’ll just say “castle doctrine, bitch”.

    • Grizzler

      In a perfect world you would say castle doctrine, bitch. In the real world you would be riddled with police bullets, followed by autopsy and burial.  

      • 2hotel9

         He would not be alone on that slab, lotsa room there.

      • Spartacus

        Not necessarily. Radly Balko has been following an incident in VA where police acted on bad info from a confidential informant, did one of their no knock raids and then had to carry out one of their own in a body bag. Subsequently, of course, the police feel no responsibility for the death of one of their own and are trying to prosecute the homeowner for murder.

        • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

          Balko is a good resource for tracking these cases all over the country.

          Too bad he just moved from Reason to the Huffington Post.  I hate reading that website.

      • 308T

         True, but I’ll get at least one of those jackboots before I meet my maker and I’m fine with that.

  • Fatalerror94

    Too many Judges and Justices tend to view Cops as Paladins of Truth and Justice rather then fallible, flesh and blood human beings.

  • Spartacus

    I wonder which prevails in “castle law” states, the right of the cop or the right of the home owner? If I were a cop in a castle law state I’d be giving the possible consequences of using of this new “right” the court gave me some very serious thought. Vests are only bullet resistant not bullet proof.

    • SigFan

       Very interesting question and quite a dilemma. Castle doctrine states have established that people have the right to defend their home.  If I heard someone breaking into my house suddenly I am one of those likely to do just that – with extreme prejudice.  And you’re right, there are any number of small arms loads that are very capable of piercing light body armor.

      • Reverendyo

         Sigfan,

        Unfortunately as right as you would be in fighting back, you would still face charges because the police would file them and the DA would take it up.  It’s a stacked deck and the supreme court just throw in a few more wild cards for the police state. 

        That is if they let you live, chances are they would fire with extreme prejudice if they are fired upon.

        • SigFan

           I agree with all you say, but wonder how the legal beagles would square this up.  To me it sounds like they’ve setup a perfect Catch 22 situation – for both the police and the homeowner.

  • John

    I just hope I am not sitting on the crapper when they come to see PBA Ball tickets! What do you think DopeyDem. Do I need to worry now?

  • http://Sayanythingblog.com The Whistler

     So is the war on drugs worth this?  

    • 2hotel9

       Clearly not, since the cops have already lost it.

    • Jamermorrow

      Nope

  • beacon

    OMG, the court is out of touch with the constituition! 

    • Fatalerror94

      Seems like they’re at War with the Constitution.

  • greenglass4

    It sounds like a bad idea to knock down my front door! A couple buddies of mine might object their names are Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson.

  • awfulorv

     The young man who was shot recently in his home in Tucson,  was hit 60 times by sheriffs deputies. Pull your finger 60 times, see how long that takes. The slime ball Sheriff Dipshit now says it’s wrong for us to question anything that happened that morning.He says It was all super legal, but wont tell if drugs were found, whether they made a mistake, etc. This is the guy, a Liberal SOB, who couldn’t wait to blame conservative minded folks for causing Rep. Giffords shooting. Who lies, along with Obama’s entire regime, about the illegal problem they say isn’t there. And our worthless, Leftist, newspapers, never ask a tough question of them, but every time Sheriff Joe farts, it makes the headlines.  Pray for us down here, we’re being invaded by the Mexicans, and riddled in our own homes by the Gunslinging Sheriffs Deputies. 

  • greenglass4

    Well keep your powder dry ! 

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