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.