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Name: Kentucky v. King
Case #: 09-1272
Court: US Supreme Court
District USSup
Opinion Date: 05/16/2011
Subsequent History: 131 S.Ct. 1849; 179 L.Ed.2d 865

The exigent circumstances rule justifies a warrantless search where the conduct of the police to prevent destruction of evidence is reasonable within the Fourth Amendment. Police in Lexington, Kentucky set up a controlled crack cocaine buy outside an apartment complex. Following the transaction, the undercover officer radioed uniformed officers and directed them to arrest the suspect, advising that the suspect was moving toward an apartment complex. Just as the officers approached the apartment complex, they heard a door shut from the area of two separate apartments and smelled marijuana from the one on the left. They approached it, knocked on the door, and announced themselves. They then heard sounds causing them to suspect that drug-related evidence was about to be destroyed and kicked the door open. Inside they did not find the original suspect but, instead, found respondent, his girlfriend, and a guest who was smoking marijuana. A protective sweep of the apartment produced marijuana, cocaine, cash, and drug paraphernalia. The original suspect was later located in the apartment on the right. The circuit court and appellate court denied a suppression motion, reasoning that exigent circumstances to prevent destruction of evidence justified the warrantless entry. The Kentucky Supreme Court reversed, finding, in a two-part test, that (1) police cannot create exigent circumstances to avoid the warrant requirement and, (2) even absent bad-faith, exigent circumstances will not justify a warrantless search if it was reasonably foreseeable that the police tactics would create the exigent circumstances. On a writ of certiorari the Supreme Court disagreed with the Kentucky Supreme Court, holding that exigent circumstances justify a warrantless search when the police conduct is not an actual or threatened violation of the Fourth Amendment. The exigent circumstances rule applies when the police do not create the exigency by engaging or threatening to engage in conduct that violates the 4th Amendment. Under the “police-created exigency” doctrine, which lower courts have developed as an exception to the exigent circumstances rule, exigent circumstances do not justify a warrantless search when the exigency was “created” or “manufactured” by the conduct of the police. The lower courts have not agreed, however, on the test for determining when police impermissibly create an exigency. The high court reaffirmed the reasonableness test, but rejected components of “reasonable foreseeability” or a “reasonable person” added to the test. Here, with the assumption that an exigency existed, the officers conduct of knocking on the door, announcing themselves, and threatening to break in the door if it was not opened reflected no violation of the Fourth Amendment. The case was remanded to the Kentucky Supreme Court to address the exigency question in light of these facts.