Supreme Court

Supreme Court Limits Police in Hot Pursuit

The Supreme Court revisited the “hot pursuit” policy Wednesday, resulting in a ruling that a fleeing misdemeanor does not always qualify as an “exigent circumstance.”

Lange v. California, stems from a California State Highway Patrolman’s attempt to stop driver Lange. At 10:20pm, the officer heard loud music coming from Lange’s vehicle, after honking without reason for 4-5 times, which violates California law. The officer testified that “the vehicle failed to yield”, and so he “followed it into a driveway”. The vehicle went into an attached garage. As the garage door started to close, the officer exited his vehicle and stuck his foot in front of the sensor to send the garage door back up. Mr. Lange was still in his vehicle with the driver’s side door open when the officer entered the garage. While inside the garage, the officer asked Mr. Lange if he had noticed the officer. Mr. Lange replied that he did not. The officer asked Mr. Lange for his license and registration. He also asked Mr. Lange why he was playing his music so loudly and how much he had had to drink. Eventually, the officer and Mr. Lange moved outside the garage, where the officer arrested Mr. Lange for driving under the influence. Lange’s blood-alcohol level was later determined to be 0.245%, more than three times the legal limit.”

The court ruled in Lange v. California, if a suspect enters a home and they are suspected of a misdemeanor, police cannot always enter the home without a warrant.

“The flight of a suspected misdemeanant does not always justify a warrantless entry into a home,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote “An officer must consider all the circumstances in a pursuit case to determine whether there is a law enforcement emergency. On many occasions, the officer will have good reason to enter — to prevent imminent harms of violence, destruction of evidence, or escape from the home. But when the officer has time to get a warrant, he must do so—even though the misdemeanant fled.”

“I would not override decades of guidance to law enforcement in favor of a new rule that provides no guidance at all,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote. “The Constitution does not demand this absurd and dangerous result.”

“The Supreme Court ruling does not bar police from homes when chasing a misdemeanor suspect, but it does not give them free reign to enter either,” said Elizabeth Wydra, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center

“The decision tells police to do what they always do, he said, which is ‘use your common sense, use your training,” stated Larry H. James, of the general counsel for the National Fraternal Order of Police “When the situation warrants immediate action, take it. When it doesn’t, get a warrant.”

In 1976 the Supreme Court case, United States v. Santana, ruled any police in “hot pursuit” of a suspect, who were suspected of committing a felony, were allowed to enter a home without a warrant, while the current Supreme Court ruling applies only to misdemeanors.

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