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Case:Kentucky v. King, 563 U.S. (2011)


InKentuckyv. King,563 U.S. 1849 (2011), police officers in Kentucky pursued asuspected drug dealer, Hollis Deshaun King, to his apartment. Theofficers could smell marijuana outside the door thus, they announcedtheir presence1.As soon as they began knocking, the two officers heard noises fromthe apartment, which they believed constituted the destruction ofevidence. The police declared their intention to enter the house, andthey kicked in the door. Upon entry, they saw drugs in plain view,and during a subsequent search, the officers found additionalevidence against the defendant2. Consequently, King and the other residents were charged withdrug-related offenses. Before the trial, King filed a motion todismiss the evidence arguing that the search was in violation of hisFourth Amendment rights.

Theparties involved in the case disagreed as to when officers improperlycreate the emergency situations. Kentucky argued that policeencounter circumstances that require warrantless search, which isobjectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Accordingly, thepetitioner claimed that sometimes officers need to rely on trainingand experience to determine if evidence is being destroyed3. On the contrary, King argued that the officers’ actions violatedhis rights because no emergency forced the police to enter hisapartment without a warrant4.Moreover, the defendant contended that it is irrational to assumethat every drug case presents the risk of offenders destroying theevidence.

However,the Circuit Court denied the motion to suppress the proof arguingthat exigent circumstances justified the warrantless search. Thus,King entered a conditional guilty plea, which allowed him to reservethe right to appeal the ruling. The Kentucky Court of Appealsaffirmed Circuit Court’s decision, but the Kentucky Supreme Courtreversed the verdict. The Court claimed that the knocking could havecreated exigent circumstances that might have led to the destructionof evidence5.Hence, they cannot rely on fear of evidence being destroyed as ajustification for a warrantless search. The case was then petitionedin the United States’ Supreme Court.


Doesthe exception of emergency circumstances apply when police officerscreate exigent situations through their lawful action such asknocking on a door6?


TheSupreme Court reversed Kentucky’s Supreme Court’s decisionclaiming that the exigent circumstances existed, but the search wasinvalid7.Therefore, the emergency rule applied to the situation, and theofficer’s actions were consistent with the Fourth Amendment8.


TheSupreme Court’s majority opinion explained that exigent situationrule is relevant when the law enforcement officials carry outactivities that align with the conditions stipulated in the FourthAmendment. The police can perform an investigation without a warrantif there is both exigent circumstances and probable cause thatrequire immediate action. Thus, threatening situations are asufficient justification for a warrantless search when the officerspreceding the emergency are responsible.

However,the dissenting opinion opposed the adoption of such a lenientstandard when explaining the exigent circumstances. Justice Ginsburgargued that a threatening situation must exist when the police arriveat the scene and not later due to their conduct9.Besides, she claimed that the officers bear the duty of proving thereis an emergency to validate a warrantless search. Hence, Kentuckyfailed to meet this responsibility because the residents were notworried before the officers knocked and announced their presence. Besides, it was unlikely that the respondents would have destroyedthe drugs while the police sought a warrant10.


Thecase has an implication on the conduct of police officers and use ofwarrantless searches. The Supreme Court did not give clear guidanceon what constitutes exigent circumstances thus, the lower courtswill continue to apply the constitutional law unevenly11.The practice will introduce challenges in drugs investigationsbecause these cases frequently involve urgent situations. In mostcases, the evidence is destroyed, which requires the police to beaggressive when arresting suspects and obtaining proof. Even so,there is a difference between a standard that forces the police toconduct warrantless searches and invade one’s privacy and practicethat does not fall into this category. Consequently, it is essentialthat the Supreme Court offer clear guidelines for both the lawenforcement officials and the courts.


Majorityopinion (8): Justice Alito wrote the majority opinion joined by ChiefJustice Roberts, Justice Kennedy, Justice Scalia, Justice Sotomayor,Justice Breyer, Justice Thomas, and Justice Kagan. Dissent (1): Justice Ginsburg gave the dissenting opinion.


LegalInformation Institute, Kentuckyv. King,(2011),

1 Kentucky v. King, 563 U.S., 131 S. Ct. 1849, 1858 (2011)

2 Id at 1854

3 Id

4 Id at 1859

5 Id at 1854

6 Id

7 Id at 1856

8 Id

9 Id at 1857

10 Id at 1858

11 Id at 1856

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