A recent possession of cocaine case was dismissed after a judge ruled that the police did not have a right to enter the defendant’s apartment and search the defendant for drugs without a search warrant. In this case, the police received a tip that drug activity was taking place at a specific apartment. When police officers responded to the tip, they saw that the apartment door was open. The police officers were able to see the defendant in the kitchen wiping off the counter. They noticed a digital scale on the counter along with a white, powdery substance that appeared to be cocaine and a straw. The police officers entered the apartment, handcuffed the defendant, searched him and found two bags of cocaine in his pocket.
The criminal defense lawyer for the defendant filed a motion to suppress alleging that the police did not have a right to enter the defendant’s apartment and arrest and search him. As a result, all evidence of cocaine possession should be thrown out.
Everyone has a Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. This Constitutional protection is strongest in one’s home. As a result, a police officer typically needs a search warrant if he/she is going to lawfully search someone’s home. There are exceptions to the search warrant requirement if the police officer can prove that he/she could see the illegal drugs from a place the police officer had a legitimate right to be, it is immediately clear that the item seen is illegal or incriminating and the officer had a lawful right to access the drugs or other incriminating item. If all of those factors are not present, the police officer can only enter someone’s home to conduct a search if there are urgent, or exigent, circumstances or the owner of the home consents to the search.
In this case, the state argued that exigent circumstances existed because the defendant was seen wiping the counter down. However, the court did not find this sufficient because there was no evidence that the defendant knew the police were present and was wiping the counter to get rid of the cocaine. Additionally, the police officers could have posted an officer by the door while the other officer went to get a search warrant. There was no other reason the police could not wait to get a search warrant while leaving an officer at the apartment to monitor the defendant.
Because the Fourth Amendment protection in one’s home is strong and the State was unable to prove a need for the police to enter the defendant’s home urgently or without a search warrant, the search was illegal, the drugs were thrown out and the defendant’s conviction for possession of cocaine was reversed.