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Keeping Up Is Hard to Do:
A Trial Judge’s Reading Blog

POLICE POWERS-ENTERING A HOME WITHOUT A WARRANT-EXIGENT CIRCUMSTANCES

In Lange v. California, No. 20–18 (U.S.S.C.), June 23, 2021, the police pursued the accused after he drove by a California highway patrol officer while playing loud music and honking his horn. The officer engaged his overhead lights, but the accused did not stop.  Instead, he drove into his driveway and entered his attached garage. The officer followed him into the garage.

This contact led to the accused being charged with the misdemeanor offence of driving under the influence.  At his trial, the accused argued that evidence should be excluded on the basis that the officer breached the provisions of the Fourth Amendment by entering his garage without a warrant.

The trial judge denied the motion, and the California Supreme Court denied review.

An appeal was taken to the Supreme Court of the United States.  The Supreme Court allowed the appeal and remitted the matter for further consideration.

The majority of the Supreme Court noted that the “Fourth Amendment ordinarily requires that police officers get a warrant before entering a home without permission. But an officer may make a warrantless entry when ‘the exigencies of the situation’ create a compelling law enforcement need…The question presented here is whether the pursuit of a fleeing misdemeanor suspect always—or more legally put, categorically—qualifies as an exigent circumstance. We hold it does not. A great many misdemeanor pursuits involve exigencies allowing warrantless entry. But whether a given one does so turns on the particular facts of the case”.

The Supreme Court indicated that “Courts are divided over whether the Fourth Amendment always permits an officer to enter a home without a warrant in pursuit of a fleeing misdemeanor suspect. Some courts have adopted such a categorical rule, while others have required a case-specific showing of exigency. We granted certiorari….to resolve the conflict”.

The Court held that “[w]hen the totality of circumstances shows an emergency—such as imminent harm to others, a threat to the officer himself, destruction of evidence, or escape from the home—the police may act without waiting. And those circumstances, as described just above, include the flight itself. But the need to pursue a misdemeanant does not trigger a categorical rule allowing home entry, even absent a law enforcement emergency. When the nature of the crime, the nature of the flight, and surrounding facts present no such exigency, officers must respect the sanctity of the home—which means that they must get a warrant”.