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Supreme Court Rules Against Warrantless Entry in Pursuit of Misdemeanor Suspect

Posted on in Legal

Pima County DUI defense lawyerIn a case that is sure to have a substantial impact on the way police handle misdemeanor encounters with individuals, in Lange v. California the Supreme Court rejected a categorical rule that enabled officers to enter a home without a warrant in “hot pursuit” of a fleeing misdemeanor suspect. In an opinion by Justice Kagan, the Court preserved the sanctity and privacy afforded to the home by ruling that the flight of a suspected misdemeanant itself does not justify warrantless entry into a home and that, barring exigent circumstances (i.e., imminent harms of violence, destruction of evidence, escape from the home), an officer must get a warrant.

The case started with Arthur Lange catching the attention of a California highway patrol officer by listening to loud music and repeatedly honking his horn as he drove his car. The officer tailed Lange and tried to conduct a traffic stop. Being just a few seconds away from home, Lange continued to his driveway and parked his car in the garage. The officer followed him in and prevented the garage door from closing by sticking his foot under it. Upon talking to Lange, the officer noticed signs of intoxication and put him through field sobriety tests, where he was eventually arrested for DUI.

Lange sought to have the evidence obtained from the unlawful entry thrown out, but the trial court rejected his argument, as did the California Court of Appeals, which held, “the warrantless entry did not violate the Constitution because the officer was in hot pursuit.” The US Supreme Court, which found warrantless entry into the home to be permissible under the Fourth Amendment for a fleeing felon, had not definitively answered if that applies to suspected misdemeanants as well.

The Court emphasized the importance of the Fourth Amendment and the protections against warrantless search and seizures, as well as the contrast between hot pursuit of a fleeing felon versus a misdemeanant. It explained that while some misdemeanors are considered dangerous, there is no evidence to suggest that every misdemeanor poses an exigent circumstance and allows the police to bypass obtaining a warrant. Creating a rule that allows for warrantless home entries for misdemeanors would blur the lines between real emergencies and non-emergencies, “treat[ing] a dangerous offender and the scared teenager the same.” Officers cannot rely on flight alone to justify a warrantless home entry for a misdemeanor offense. If the officer has time to get a warrant, they must do so – even if the misdemeanant fled. The outcome of this case should help to prevent police from entering individuals’ homes without a warrant for trivial offenses.

The winning team of attorneys at The Behan Law Group have successfully suppressed illegally seized evidence in courtrooms throughout Pima County and beyond. We know firsthand how often the police overstep the bounds of the Constitution, and we fight hard to protect the rights of Arizona citizens charged with DUIs and other crimes. If you or a loved one is charged with a crime, contact The Behan Law Group at 520-220-5047 for a free consultation. Call us, and let Miss DUI Arizona fight for you, too!

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