Justices said four Brigham City, Utah, police officers were justified in going inside a home in 2000 after peering through a window and seeing a fight between a teenager and adults.
Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the unanimous court, said that officers had a reasonable basis for going inside to stop violence, even though they could not announce their arrival over the loud noise of a party.
"The role of a peace officer includes preventing violence and restoring order, not simply rendering first aid to casualties; an officer is not like a boxing (or hockey) referee, poised to stop a bout only if it becomes too one-sided," Roberts wrote.
The decision overturned a ruling by Utah's Supreme Court that said a trial judge was correct to throw out charges stemming from the police search. The trial judge ruled that police had violated the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches by failing to knock before entering the house.
When the adults realized the officers were inside the house, they allegedly became abusive and were charged with disorderly conduct, intoxication and contributing to the delinquency of a minor — all misdemeanors.
In a separate opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens said that Utah courts could still find that the police entry was unreasonable under Utah's constitution. He called it "an odd flyspeck of a case," and said he was unsure why courts had spent so much time on a matter involving minor offenses.
CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen said the decision appears not to limit in a major way a person's privacy rights while at home.
"This isn't a terribly surprising or significant case. It certainly tracks what most people would consider a sensible interpretation of what the police are supposed to do when they are answering a call," he said.
The Supreme Court has devoted a surprising amount of attention this year to the rights of people whose homes were searched over their objections.