Supreme Court OKs More Warrantless Searches Police who smelled marijuana didn't need to stop and get a court order to search a home when officers were afraid evidence was being destroyed inside — even though there was time to talk to the judge before the inhabitants knew the police were outside.


Supreme Court OKs More Warrantless Searches

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By an eight-to-one vote, the court upheld the warrantless search of an apartment. In the case, police had burst in after smelling marijuana, worried that those inside were destroying incriminating evidence. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports.

NINA TOTENBERG: Criminal law experts said today's ruling will undoubtedly lead to more warrantless searches like this one. George Washington University law professor Stephen Saltzburg is author of a leading text on criminal law.

P: In practice, it means that whenever the police have suspicion that there's drug activity going on in a particular apartment or house, and they knock, and they hear movement inside and any reasonable delay in opening the door, they are going to break it in.

TOTENBERG: Saltzburg says the decision does resolve conflicting decisions in the lower courts.

M: It provides greater clarity to the police as to what they are permitted to do, and it provides less protection for homes and apartments than a lot of people thought they had.

TOTENBERG: Philip Heymann, former head of the U.S. Justice Department's Criminal Division and now a professor at Harvard Law School, says the standard laid out today will be very tempting for law enforcement officers, namely allowing police to break in and search without a warrant when they knock on the door and hear sounds suggesting destruction of evidence.

P: That is a very fuzzy, indeterminate, easily faked - if the policeman wants to - test, when drugs have afterwards been found.

TOTENBERG: And that, says University of Chicago law professor Bernard Harcourt, will mean a different set of police imperatives.

P: Once there is probable cause, this point, the police no longer need to kind of stop and think about whether they should get a warrant.

TOTENBERG: Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

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