Column by Michael Kleen.
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If there was any lingering doubt as to whether federal or state governments would act against constitutional or common law when it served their interests, that ambiguity has been dispelled. Just days apart, two Supreme Court decisions, one state and one federal, directly attacked the individual right against unreasonable searches and seizures as spelled out by the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Since the 18th Century, with some exceptions, police have been required to obtain a search warrant or the permission of the owner before being allowed to enter a person’s home. In an 8-1 decision on May 16, however, the Supreme Court of the United States swept that away.
Now, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, police may enter a home if and when they “hear sounds suggesting evidence is being destroyed.” What evidence, you ask? What kind of sounds? Perhaps the sound of a toilet flushing or someone lighting a match or turning on a document shredder? What qualifies as this “sound”? Moreover, what prevents police officers from simply saying they thought they heard evidence being destroyed? The specific case involved proves enlightening.
According to the Chicago Tribune, it all started when police in Lexington, Kentucky were in the midst of pursuing a suspect who ran into an apartment building. The officers did not see which apartment he entered, but when they smelled marijuana smoke coming from one of them, they wrongly assumed he had gone into that one. They pounded on the door and yelled “Police!” The sound of people moving inside the apartment followed, so the police officers broke down the door and arrested a man named Hollis King, who they found smoking pot. They also discovered cocaine in King’s apartment. He was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to 11 years in prison.
After appeal, the Kentucky Supreme Court overturned King’s conviction and ruled the apartment break-in violated his 4th Amendment right against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” The case then went to the U.S. Supreme Court where, incredibly, they overturned the Kentucky decision.
So, what sound had justified the police officers breaking into Hollis King’s home? What did the United States Supreme Court determine was a reasonable indicator that evidence was about to be destroyed? The Tribune article was very specific: “The sound of people moving inside the apartment.” Did you catch that? The sound of people moving. So, the next time the police knock on your door, make sure not to get up to answer it.
It gets worse. In the few remaining circumstances where police entry into your home can be considered illegal, you have no right to resist, according to the Indiana Supreme Court. “We believe… a right to resist an unlawful police entry into a home is against public policy.…” one justice explained in the recent 3-2 decision. Justice Robert Rucker, one of the two dissenters, strongly disagreed. “In my view the majority sweeps with far too broad a brush by essentially telling Indiana citizens that government agents may now enter their homes illegally – that is, without the necessity of a warrant, consent or exigent circumstances,” he wrote.
His colleague added, “The wholesale abrogation of the historic right of a person to reasonably resist unlawful police entry into his dwelling is unwarranted and unnecessarily broad.”
It would be an understatement to say that these court rulings represent a disturbing benchmark on the road to tyranny in the United States, but they did not occur in a vacuum. Under the guise of the War on Drugs and War on Terror, authorities have long sought to expand their powers within the bounds of existing law. Between 2007 and 2009, the use of “delayed-notice” search warrants, or “sneak and peak” warrants, has grown from 700 to nearly 2,000 annually. With delayed-notice warrants, federal agents are allowed to enter a home without the knowledge of the owner and search through the person’s belongings. Although use of these special warrants has spiked since the renewal of the Patriot Act in 2005, information from the U.S. Justice Department shows the majority of them have been used in drug cases.
For many years, appeals to the U.S. Constitution have been used to fight the growing encroachment of government on our natural rights. If the legal trend illustrated in the above cases continues, however, it is clear that the arbiters of constitutional law will not be persuaded by those arguments. With naked contempt for the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, they will simply interpret the Constitution in a manner that grants them the broad powers they desire, even if that interpretation essentially absolves the document of any meaning.