5 Terrifying Ways Police Can Legally Screw You Over

#2. Board and Search Your Boat

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The greatest thing about boats is a distinct feeling of invincibility. You're free to sail the seas to wherever your vices are tolerated. You're Boat-Man, master of the universe! Hahaha! Aaaahahahahaha! Wait, hold on. Is that a Coast Guard ship rolling up on your starboard side and yelling something about a boarding? They'd better have one of those waterproof sea warrants, baby!

Galerie de Souzy
Or at least a kickass pirate bounty hunter license.

As free as you might be in international waters, good luck getting there if the officials feel they don't like your stupid face. It turns out that the Fourth Amendment does not apply in America's waters. As far as the law is concerned, authorities can freely swoop down, search your ship, and (possibly) keelhaul your drunken guests at any time they damn well feel like it, without any reason or obligation to explain why.

This little legal curiosity came to light back in 1980, when the Coast Guard stopped a sailboat called the Henry Morgan II because it had been shaken up by a passing ship's wake, and they wanted to make sure everyone was all right. There was no suspicion of any crime, no probable cause -- it was purely a safety check. However, they were greeted by an overwhelming smell of marijuana, and further investigation indeed revealed a couple of bales of the stuff. The people on board were arrested and charged with smuggling drugs.

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"If only there was some way to mask scents on a boat with something equally smelly ..."

The culprits took it to court, going as far as the Supreme Court, and claimed that there was no reasonable suspicion for the Coast Guard to search the boat. The Supreme Court listened politely and laughed the smuggler out of the building to the tune of a 6-3 vote, citing a ruling that goes all the way back to the very first Congress as precedent. Yes, although we'll probably never know what America's founders thought about universal health care, they've made themselves pretty damn clear when it comes to privacy on boats: There's no such thing. Hey, if you didn't want the authorities watching you do it, you should have done it on land!

The only problem is, on land it's still pretty easy for police to ...

#1. Barge into Your House

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Let's say you find the police at your door. Maybe the neighbors called them because of the strange sounds from your house, or maybe they just popped by to marvel at your glorious abs. Regardless of the reason, you feel safe. Countless TV shows have taught you that cops are like vampires in this particular regard: Unless you invite them in, they're powerless. Without a warrant, the doorstep is where they stop.

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"How about just a peek? Come on, don't be a dick."

This makes it all the more surprising to you when the officers on your porch look at each other with a "Hey, did you hear that?" expression on their faces and walk right in without a second thought. "But where's your warrgblblblaargh," you inquire, your voice slightly muffled by the carpet that is suddenly in your mouth as they cuff you.

The officers who just mistook the sounds of your Looney Tunes/Cthulhu Rule 34 cartoon for a war zone were legally allowed to barge in because they invoked exigent circumstances, an emergency regulation that permits law enforcement officers to enter a building without a warrant. They're allowed to do it as long as they think evidence is about to be destroyed, someone's in danger, or a suspect is fleeing. And please note that the key phrase is "if they think" here: Although exigent circumstances are only meant to eliminate inconvenient "Hold on, I'll go get a warrant so I can come inside and stop that dude from stabbing you" situations, there's a lot of wiggle room for the arrest-minded officer.

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For example, a police dog may detect that you're smuggling cats.

Just ask Hollis King, a Kentucky resident who ended up with a 10-year prison sentence for smoking pot in 2005. The police were chasing a coke dealer in King's neighborhood when they randomly passed his place and noticed the smell of weed wafting out. King had been enjoying a quiet 420 with a few friends, which prompted the officers -- who had missed their original culprit and were in full "We'll take any damned drug arrest we can get" mode -- to start banging on his door, yelling "Police!"

When the people inside made a ruckus (as drug-smoking people interrupted by cops banging at the door are wont to do), the officers immediately assumed evidence was being destroyed. They kicked the door right the fuck in, arresting Hollis and his friends for possession of marijuana and, ironically enough, cocaine.

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There were also three murders and 15 robberies in town that night, but the Lexington police clearly had their hands full.

Unsurprisingly, King appealed, claiming that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated. Although the Kentucky Supreme Court did agree with him, the U.S. Supreme Court overwhelmingly disagreed, ruling 8-1 in favor of the Kentucky cops and calling the search entirely lawful. But really, isn't it worth it so that you can rest easy knowing that none of your neighbors are quietly smoking weed in their living rooms? This is just the price we have to pay.


Since relocating to a booby-trapped cavern, Sam can be reached only through Facebook and Twitter. Also, make sure to check out his other work on the Hilltop Views.

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Related Reading: There are a lot of reasons to not trust cops these days. Like all the anal probing they get up to. It's even scarier when you consider how easy it is to break a law without knowing it. You'd better believe connecting to an open WiFi network can land you in hot water. Still clinging to some bullshit myths about the Man? We can help.

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