The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued a ruling in a warrantless search case that may be of interest to municipalities.
After a motorist drove by a highway patrol officer while playing loud music and honking his horn, the officer flashed his lights to signal the driver to pull over. Instead of stopping, the driver drove into his garage. The officer followed the driver into the garage, questioning and administering field sobriety tests to the driver. After a blood test revealed the driver’s blood-alcohol content was three times the legal limit, the State charged the driver with driving under the influence. The driver argued that the evidence should be supressed because it was obtained after the officer’s entered his garage without a warrant, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The trial and appellate courts rejected his argument, finding that the driver’s failure to pull over and comply with the police signal created probable cause to arrest the driver and the driver could not defeat an arrest begun in a public place by retreating into his home. Additionally, the appellate court stated that pursuing a suspected misdemeanant is always permissible under the “exigent-circumstances” exception to the warrant requirement.
In Lange v. California, the United States Supreme Court disagreed, holding that pursuing a fleeing misdemeanor suspect does not always categoricallyjustify entering a person’s home without a warrant. Instead, the Supreme Court noted that an officer can make a warrantless entry when the exigencies arising from a misdemeanants’ flight creates a compelling need to act before it is possible to get a warrant. The Court noted that misdemeanors are generally minor in nature and, although a suspect’s flight might create an exigent need for police to act swiftly, the Court cautioned that not every case of misdemeanor flight triggers a categorical rule allowing a warrantless home entry.
Post Authored by Eugene Bolotnikov, Ancel Glink