Generally, the police may not conduct a search of your home without a warrant, but there is an exception to that rule which the Supreme Court just expanded. If there are ‘exigent circumstances’ that are so compelling that the search would be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. One exigent circumstance is the likelihood that the suspects would likely destroy evidence before a search warrant could be obtained.

However the exigent circumstances exception does not apply if the police themselves have created or manufactured the exigent circumstances. But in a recent case the court suggests that even where the police actions will foreseeably create the exigent circumstances that those action cannot be said to have created the exigent circumstances.

The police pounded on the door of an apartment which they wrongly believed an individual they were following had entered. The police were unsure which apartment he had entered so knocked on the door of two apartments they thought it might be. The Police pounded on the door and identified themselves. They said that they then heard “things being moved” inside the apartment.

According to the court this gave the police authority to break down the door. The fact that they could hear movement was sufficient to create a suspicion that the suspects may be about to destroy evidence. So while they could not have properly entered the apartment when they first knocked, the sound of movement provided the exigent circumstances required to conduct a warrantless search.

It is easy to understand the rationale behind allowing the police to enter a house without a warrant if they believe that someone is in imminent danger inside. But it is hard to now reconcile the exigent circumstances exception with the level of deference to privacy involved in actually obtaining a warrant.

Source: U.S. Supreme Court Kentuck v. King, May 16, 2011