Kentucky v. King

Following is the case brief for Kentucky v. King, 563 U.S. 452 (2011)

Case Summary of Kentucky v. King:

  • Police officers follows a suspect into an apartment complex and lost sight of him.
  • They smelled marijuana outside an apartment door, knocked loudly, and announced their presence.
  • Upon hearing noises consistent with the destruction of evidence, the officers announced their intention to enter, kicked down the door, and found drug evidence.
  • The trial court denied the defendants’ motion to suppress, and the appeals court affirmed.
  • The Kentucky Supreme Court reversed, finding that the police created the exigency to conduct a warrantless search.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Kentucky Supreme Court.  It held that the police officers did not create the exigency, and the Kentucky Supreme Court may review the exigency question on remand.

Kentucky v. King Case Brief

Statement of the Facts:

Lexington, Kentucky police officers were following a suspected drug dealer into an apartment complex.  They lost sight of the drug dealer but smelled marijuana outside an apartment door in the complex.  They knocked and heard noises coming from the apartment.

Believing that the noises sounded like the people inside the apartment were destroying evidence, the officers announced that they were going to enter the apartment.  They proceeded to kick down the door and enter.  They found King and others in the apartment and discovered drugs in plain view during a protective sweep of the apartment.  More drugs and paraphernalia were found in a subsequent search of the apartment.

King moved to suppress the evidence, and ultimately entered a guilty plea conditioned on his ability to appeal his motion to suppress.

Procedural History:

  • The Kentucky Circuit Court denied King’s motion to suppress the drug evidence.
  • The Kentucky Court of Appeals affirmed.
  • The Supreme Court of Kentucky reversed, finding that the search was invalid even if exigent circumstances existed.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Issue and Holding:

Does the exigent circumstances exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement still apply when police conduct foreseeably prompted a defendant to try to destroy evidence?  Yes.


The decision of the Supreme Court of Kentucky is reversed and remanded.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

The exigent circumstances rule still applies even if the police conduct foreseeably prompted a defendant to destroy evidence.


Writing for the Court, Justice Alito framed the issue as “whether the exigent circumstances rule applies when police, by knocking on the door of a residence and announcing their presence, cause the occupants to attempt to destroy evidence.”  The Court finds that the exigent circumstances rule does apply.

While the exigent circumstances rule does not apply if the exigency is created by the police, in this case the police did not create the exigency, or the Supreme Court of Kentucky should determine whether there was exigency on remand.  Otherwise, banging on the door and announcing their presence is police conduct that is “consistent with the Fourth Amendment.”

Concurring and Dissenting Opinions:

Dissenting Opinion (Ginsburg):

The officers in this case could have gotten a warrant.  But, because of the Court’s decision, officers may now knock, listen, and then break someone’s door down without running afoul of the Fourth Amendment.  The Court’s opinion reduces the Fourth Amendment’s force.  As for exigent circumstances, the urgency must exist when the police arrive on the scene, not after their arrival and prompted by their own conduct.


Kentucky v. King is a significant exigent circumstances case.  It shows the challenge in delineating between exigency that is “created” by the police, and exigency that is separate and apart from police conduct.

Student Resources:

Read the Full Court Opinion

Listen to the Oral Arguments