The Supreme Court is revisiting the familiar issue of when and why police should be allowed to search a citizen's home, reports the New York Times. On Wednesday, the court heard arguments in a case about what the police were entitled to do after smelling marijuana outside a Kentucky apartment. Two justices voiced concerns that the court may be poised to eviscerate an older ruling on the matter. “Aren't we just simply saying they can just walk in whenever they smell marijuana, whenever they think there's drugs on the other side?” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, considering what a decision against the defendant would signal to the police. “Why do we even bother giving them a warrant?”
The old ruling, from 1948, involved the search of a hotel room in Seattle. The smell of drugs could provide probable cause for a warrant, Justice Robert H. Jackson wrote for the majority, but it did not entitle the police to enter without one. “No suspect was fleeing or likely to take flight,” Justice Jackson wrote. “The search was of permanent premises, not of a movable vehicle. No evidence or contraband was threatened with removal or destruction.” In the new case, police officers in Kentucky were looking for a suspect who had sold cocaine to an informant. They smelled burning marijuana coming from an apartment, knocked loudly and announced themselves.