MT: Knock-and-talk led to forced entry based on exigency of officers being made

A Montana DTF was tipped off to defendant bringing a cache of heroin to a motel to distribute. Officers set up surveillance and recognized local drug dealers coming and going. They called for uniformed backup and attempted a knock-and-talk which led to a slammed door. That was exigency for a forced entry to preserve the probable evidence, and it was reasonable. State v. Vegas, 2020 MT 121, 2020 Mont. LEXIS 1380 (May 12, 2020) [Coming out and being made here wasn’t a police-created exigency? The defendant admits probable cause.]:

[*P4] The agents called a uniformed officer to assist them and proceeded to Vegas’s hotel rooms to knock and announce their presence. Vegas answered the door of Room 109 by opening it slightly and keeping the chain in place. Upon seeing the uniformed officer, Vegas quickly shut and locked the door. The agents kicked down the door and entered Room 109. The agents also entered Room 111. After securing both rooms, the agents applied for and obtained a search warrant. Upon executing the warrant, the agents located approximately 54 grams of methamphetamine, a digital scale, and $ 3,437 in cash.

. . .

[*P13] On appeal, Vegas concedes probable cause exists in this case, but he argues the agents’ warrantless entry was not justified because no exigent circumstances existed. We disagree.

[*P14] The District Court relied on several specific and articulable facts from the agents that prompt action was necessary to prevent the likely destruction of drug evidence. The agents knew that their presence was recognizable by other drug users and dealers in the community. After observing known drug users and dealers leaving Vegas’s hotel rooms, the agents believed Vegas could easily be tipped off by someone who recognized the agents and likely would dispose of the drug evidence in the time it took for the agents to obtain a warrant. Additionally, Vegas slamming and locking the door in response to law enforcement’s presence at his hotel room further created a situation requiring prompt action to prevent the destruction of relevant evidence. The agents did not need to be certain that the drug evidence was being destroyed in order for exigent circumstances to exist. See Ruggirello, ¶ 22. The District Court correctly determined exigent circumstances existed justifying the agents’ warrantless entry into Vegas’s hotel rooms.

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