Officers followed a suspected drug dealer to an apartment complex but lost sight of him as he entered the breezeway. Upon entering the breezeway officers saw two apartments, one on the left and the other to the right. The officers detected the very strong odor of burnt marijuana outside the apartment door on the left. Approaching the apartment door on the left, the officers knocked loudly and announced their presence. As the officers began knocking, they heard noises coming from the apartment; the officers believed these noises were consistent with the destruction of evidence. The officers then announced their intent to enter the apartment and forced entry by kicking in the door. The defendant and others were found inside the apartment. During a protective sweep officers saw drugs in plain view. The suspected drug dealer was later found in the other apartment on the right side of the breezeway.
Whether the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement applies when officers’ presence causes the occupants to attempt to destroy evidence by knocking on the door of a residence and announcing their presence?
Yes. The exigent circumstances exception applies when the government does not create the exigency by engaging in, or threatening to engage in, conduct that violates the Fourth Amendment.
The Court applied a two part test for the “police created exigency” doctrine whereby the trial court must determine (1) whether exigent circumstances existed; and (2) whether the officers impermissibly created the exigency by violating or threatening to violate the Fourth Amendment. By merely knocking on the door to the apartment the officers did no more than any private citizen might do. The officers were not responsible for the occupants’ reaction to their presence at the door. The occupants could have chosen to not answer the door instead of destroying evidence. Therefore, because the officers did not violate or threaten to violate the Fourth Amendment, the exigency justified the warrantless search of the residence.
The exigent circumstances rule justifies a warrantless search when the conduct of the officers preceding the exigency is objectively reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Warrantless entry to prevent the destruction of evidence is reasonable and is therefore allowed where the officers do not create the exigency by engaging in or threatening to engage in conduct (such as announcing they would break the door down if the occupants do not open the door voluntarily) that violates the Fourth Amendment.
563 U.S. 452, 131 S. Ct. 1849 (2011)