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Warrantless Searches: Are Our Constitutional Rights Being “Flushed” Away?

Over the past few years the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled on cases that have strengthened a person’s Constitutional rights against unreasonable police conduct, particularly as it pertains to searches of a person’s car and home. Take for example the recent decision of Arizona v. Gant which now strictly limits a police officer from searching an arrestee’s vehicle once they have been removed from that vehicle and no longer have access to it. However, a recent decision, King v. Kentucky, is very troublesome in that it opens the door for warrantless police intrusion into someone’s home or apartment, if the police hear noises that “they” believe to be people destroying evidence.

The issue addressed in this case was whether in emergency circumstances police may enter and search the premises without a warrant. The Court held that warrantless entry to prevent the destruction of evidence is allowed where police do not create the exigency. The court stated that “the need to prevent the imminent destruction of evidence is a sufficient justification for a warrantless search” and “warrantless searches are allowed when the circumstances make it reasonable, within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, to dispense with the warrant requirement.”

The Court argues that one of the most well established exigent circumstances permitting warrantless entry into a private residence is when police reasonably believe that evidence is being destroyed. Supreme Court precedent declared that sometimes the circumstances make the needs of law enforcement “so compelling that the warrantless search is objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment”.

But the question that will now rise from this case and the cases to follow is: what sound constitutes destruction of evidence? Does a toilet flushing and nothing else meet the threshold? How about a window slamming? Or the sound of people moving about? The Court has now given broad discretion to police officers to arbitrarily interpret the sounds of evidence being destroyed on a very subjective and personal level.   All at the cost of the citizen who’s Constitutional Right to be free from illegal search and seizures is falling to the wayside. Under normal circumstances a warrant would be needed to enter that house or apartment and now that protection has been flushed away.

If you or anyone you know thinks their rights have been violated by the police, the lawyers at Collins, McDonald, and Gann are here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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