Kentucky v. King

RESPONDENT: Hollis Deshaun King
LOCATION: Residence of Hollis King

DOCKET NO.: 09-1272
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: Kentucky Supreme Court

CITATION: 563 US 452 (2011)
GRANTED: Sep 28, 2010
ARGUED: Jan 12, 2011
DECIDED: May 16, 2011

Ann O'Connell - Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioner
Jamesa J. Drake - for the respondent
Joshua D. Farley - for the petitioner

Facts of the case

Police officers in Lexington, Ky., entered an apartment building in pursuit of a suspect who sold crack cocaine to an undercover informant. The officers lost sight of the suspect and mistakenly assumed he entered an apartment from which they could detect the odor of marijuana. After police knocked on the door and identified themselves, they heard movements, which they believed indicated evidence was about to be destroyed. Police forcibly entered the apartment and found Hollis King and others smoking marijuana. They also found cash, drugs and paraphernalia. King entered a conditional guilty plea; reserving his right to appeal denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained from what he argued was an illegal search.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction, holding that exigent circumstances supporting the warrantless search were not of the police's making and that police did not engage in deliberate and intentional conduct to evade the warrant requirement. In January 2010, the Kentucky Supreme Court reversed the lower court order, finding that the entry was improper. The court held that the police were not in pursuit of a fleeing suspect when they entered the apartment, since there was no evidence that the original suspect even knew he was being followed by police.


Does the exclusionary rule, which forbids the use of illegally seized evidence except in emergency situations, apply when the emergency is created by lawful police actions?

Media for Kentucky v. King

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 12, 2011 in Kentucky v. King

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 16, 2011 in Kentucky v. King

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Alito has the opinion of the Court this morning in Case 09-1272, Kentucky versus King.

He has asked that I announce it for him.

This case comes to us on the writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Kentucky.

In this case, police officers smelled marijuana outside an apartment door, knocked loudly, and announced their presence.

As soon as the officers began knocking, they heard noises that, in their view, indicated that the occupants were destroying drug-related evidence.

The officers entered the apartment without a warrant to prevent the destruction of evidence.

Respondent was convicted of drug-related offenses based on evidence that the officers found inside the apartment.

Now, it is well-established that the rule of exigent circumstances which includes the need to prevent destruction of evidence is an exception to the warrant requirement.

We do not decide whether exigent circumstances actually existed in this case.

We, like the Kentucky Supreme Court, assume that there was an exigency.

The question before us concerns an exception to the exigent circumstances rule that has been developed by lower courts.

Lower courts have held that when police create an exigency, the search is unconstitutional, even though an exigency existed.

This is known as the "police-created exigency" doctrine.

The Kentucky Supreme Court applied the police-created exigency doctrine in this case, overturning respondent's conviction.

Assuming there was an exigency, the Kentucky Supreme Court held that the exigent circumstances rule could not justify the search because the police should have foreseen that their conduct would prompt the occupants to destroy evidence.

In short, the Court held that the police had impermissibly created the exigency.

For the reason stated in our opinion, we reject this interpretation of the exigent circumstances rule.

The conduct of the police, prior to their entry into the apartment, was entirely lawful.

They banged on the door and announced their presence.

They did not violate the Fourth Amendment, nor did they threaten to violate the Fourth Amendment.

Under these circumstances, the officers' warrantless entry to prevent the destruction of evidence was reasonable.

We therefore reverse the judgment of the Kentucky Supreme Court and remand for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

Justice Ginsburg has filed a dissenting Opinion.