Activist Supreme Court Decides Cops Can Bust Down Your Door Without a Warrant If They Smell Weed (and Kill You)
Posted by Enrique on 05.18.2011
What democracy looks like
Now that's a provocative headline, no? To be fair, when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Kentucky v. King on Monday, nothing about it explicitly said the police can kill you for no good reason. It did, unfortunately, lower the bar for what qualifies as a "good reason."
No one was killed in the Kentucky v. King case, but it's not uncommon for bad judgment calls by the police to have tragic unintended consequences (there's that phrase again). For example, earlier this month Arizona sheriffs killed an Iraq vet and haven't been forthcoming with details about why they did that. It's a bad time for the Supremes to be giving cops another excuse for bad behavior.
The story so far…
You can read the Kentucky v. King decision in PDF format here, but here's the executive version. Having conducted a sting operation, police officers were chasing a man on suspicion of selling adults something they wanted to buy, i.e., a drug dealer. This alleged entrepreneur fled into a nearby apartment, but cops didn't know which one. When they smelled weed coming from one apartment, they knocked on the door and yelled "Police!" When no one answered and cops heard movement inside, they broke down the door of one Hollis Deshaun King. (If they had yelled "Jimmy Johns" he probably would have gotten the door. *rim shot*)
As it turns out, the suspected drug dealer wasn't in Mr. King's apartment. But as long as they were there, police decided to arrest King on drug charges. Mind you, police had no warrant and no reason to break down King's door. They were looking for a suspect they had stung in a controlled-buy ploy, and the guy ran away – this was a situation the police themselves created. I suppose they were pretty nervous, since they fucked up and let the guy get away. Maybe that clouded their judgment, and made them think they had the right to bust into some poor dude's home because they smelled dope. Without a warrant. When King hadn't done anything.
And now the Supremes have enshrined these ass-covering idiots' the police's right to break into your home without a warrant into federal law, on the basis you might be destroying evidence. Not causing harm to anyone, just maybe flushing weed down the toilet. If cops happen to be in your neighborhood and smell dope coming from your place, they can bust in if you don't answer the door quickly enough.
Well, of course you'd expect John Roberts and his conservative lackeys to vote in favor of expanding police power…oh shit, it was an 8-1 decision? Ginsberg was the only one who dissented? Christ, where were you on that, Sotomayor and Kagan? I thought you were supposed to be lefty squishes who cared about lame crap like the rights of the accused. Maybe these two ladies will be to Obama what Souter was to Bush I.
Now I suppose if you're a rightwinger who generally supports law ‘n' order, it may not particularly trouble you that cops have the discretion to break down someone's door if they think evidence may be destroyed. I suppose some folks might think the war on drugs is so important, the mere smell of marijuana – a harmless substance that no one has ever overdosed from – is sufficient justification for cops to fuck someone's shit up without a warrant. That may be hunky-dory to defenders of law ‘n' order when the victim of police misbehavior is some dude named Hollis Deshaun, but what about this guy?
Say hello to the late Jose Guerena, a former Marine who had served two tours in Iraq. On May 5, Guerena was killed by a SWAT team serving a warrant on his home in Tucson, Arizona. Well, as long as they had a warrant, there must be a reasonable explanation. Don't you want to know what the warrant was for?
Well, the Pima County Sheriff's Department ain't saying what it was for – two goddamn weeks after this colossal, tragic fuck up. It took more than one week for authorities to release the 911 call by Guerena's wife. They are blatantly dragging their feet.
As of this writing, Pima County is still not saying what the hell the warrant was for. They have, however, release a snippy, self-serving statement criticizing the media for being irresponsible. Got that? The cops who shot a guy dead are upset about other folks behaving irresponsibly. You can read the statement for yourself here, but here's a listy summary:
1. Speculation about the death of Mr. Guerena is "emotionally-charged."
2. The search warrants have something to do with "serious crimes."
3. They made a mistake when they originally said Guerena fired at officers with an assault rifle. They meant to say Guerena pointed an assault rifle with the safety on.
4. When they withhold information from the public, they have a "legitimate reason."
5. Hey, it's a bureaucratic nightmare with all the agencies involved in this shit, cut us some slack.
And with that, no further details will be immediately forthcoming from the office of Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik. You'll just have to take his word for it that there's a good explanation for what happened, and he'll get back to you just as soon as he thinks one up. And if the name "Dupnik" seems disconcertingly familiar, it's because this is the guy who had local jurisdiction over the Tucson shooting that killed six people and severely injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in January.
Dupnik is the vile clown who initially cast blame on Rush Limbaugh for the shootings, as well as those who "tear down the government." Although this chump is obviously horrible when addressing the media, when you kill a dude, it's not too much to expect a thorough explanation.
This is not the kind of behavior that should be rewarded with expanded discretion, or the benefit of doubt. And yet that's exactly what the Supremes have done in Kentucky v. King. The way the police are acting in the Guerena case, it's clear they hold themselves to different standards than they hold folks like you, me, Hollis Deshaun King, and Jose Guerena.
If law enforcement officers are going to have the right to make judgment calls about who they shoot and when they decide to tell us about it, they are the ones who should be held to a higher standard. Instead, the Supreme Court just gave the Clarence Dupniks of the world permission to shoot anyone they want without even bothering with a super-secret warrant – they just have to claim they smelled pot beforehand. Terrific.