More often than not I agree with Justice Alito. I never, ever, agree with Justice Ginsberg. Until now.
I called Hades; they assured me it is not snowing. I didn’t believe them, of course, but I am in no rush to personally check out the scenery.
The Justices ruled 8-1 allowing officers, who loudly knock on a door and then hear noises suggesting evidence is being destroyed, may, without a warrant, break down the door. The court does not define what may be a “suggestive” sound. Prior to this ruling, the court has ruled the police can enter a home only with a warrant or the owner’s permission with Justice Alito saying in the past, “The 4th Amendment has drawn a firm line at the entrance to the house.” The exception being if the police hear screams coming from the house then they were permitted to enter.
First, the fourth amendment:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
In Lexington KY, police followed suspect “A” into a building who they suspected sold crack cocaine to an informant. Once inside the building they lost suspect “A.” In the hall, they could smell marijuana smoke. The police wrongfully assumed suspect “A” had entered an apartment and pounded on the door yelling ‘Police. Police. Police.” Upon hearing noises of movement, they announced they were coming in and broke down the door. Inside, they found Hollis King, not suspect “A,” smoking marijuana and placed him under arrest. They also found powder cocaine on the premises.
The Kentucky Supreme Court, overruled his conviction siting the police violated King’s fourth amendment rights by breaking into his apartment. The Supreme Court over turned this ruling stating the police conduct was “entirely lawful” and justified in order to prevent the destruction of evidence. Justice Alito wrote:
When law enforcement officers who are not armed with a warrant knock on a door, they do no more than any private citizen may do. A resident need not respond, but the sounds of people moving and perhaps toilets being flushed could justify police entering without a warrant
Am I wrong here? Did Justice Alito basically say “If the police knock on your door, stay very, very quiet until they go away?”
The lone dissenter Justice Ginsberg wrote:
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, never mind that they had ample time to obtain a warrant.
How ‘secure’ do our homes remain if police, armed with no warrant, can pound on doors at will and …forcibly enter?”
I may never agree with Justice Ginsberg again, but she got this one correct.
Of course, why should the Court’s ruling be a surprise? First the Court attacked free speech by upholding McCain-Feingold campaign reform. Then, they attacked private property rights by upholding the use of eminent domain to transfer land from one private owner to another. Now, the fourth amendment has just been neutered. What’s next?