June 23, 2021
The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that when the police pursue someone for a misdemeanor, the pursuit will not automatically create the kind of emergency that allows the police to track the suspect into the home without a warrant. The court acknowledged that many cases will involve such emergencies-but Judge Elena Kagan emphasized this decision in her report. Advice to the court, Will depend on the facts of each case.
Decided to come in The case of Arthur Lange, A California man was convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol. In 2016, when Lange was returning to his home in Sonoma, a policeman began to follow Lange’s car. Police officer Aaron Weikert later testified that he wanted to stop Lange because he “played music loudly.” Even though there were no cars in front of him, he honked the horn several times.
Shortly before Lange drove into the driveway, Wickett turned on his dome light. But Lange-who later said he hadn’t seen Wickett-continued to walk into his garage and began to close the door. Wickert, who quickly parked his car in the driveway, followed Langer into the garage. Weikert said that as soon as he got there, he smelled alcohol. Lange was taken to the hospital, where tests determined that his blood alcohol concentration was 0.245%-more than three times the legal limit.
Lange disputed his conviction, arguing that Weikert violated the Fourth Amendment when he entered the garage without a search warrant. But the California Court of Appeals rejected this argument. The court ruled that when Weikert drove the car into the driveway and then entered the garage after Weikert turned on the lights, Weikert might arrest Lange. Therefore, Weikert’s “hot pursuit” of Lange proved that it was reasonable for him to enter Lange’s garage, even without authorization.
Kagan writes that the Supreme Court’s cases usually avoid clear rules when applying the “emergency” exception to the police’s general requirement to obtain an arrest warrant. Instead, the court applied the exception on a case-by-case basis, because the core issue of the principle—whether the police have time to obtain an arrest warrant—depends on the facts of the particular case. Kagan admitted that when a suspect runs away, the police may often need to act quickly—for example, to avoid destroying evidence or to ensure that the suspect will not run away again. But there is no reason to believe that Kagan went on to say that the police need to act quickly under any circumstances without the need for a search warrant. Therefore, Kagan concluded that when the police officer has time to get the warrant, he should “do this-even if the petty offender ran away.” The Supreme Court reversed the state court’s decision on Wednesday and sent the case back for retrial based on its opinion.
Chief Justice John Roberts submitted a separate opinion, and Justice Samuel Alito also joined the opinion, and he agreed that Lange’s case should be returned to the state court. But he disagreed with Kagan’s views on the requirements of the Fourth Amendment. According to Roberts, the court’s previous cases have established “general rules for hot pursuit to justify undocumented entry.” According to Roberts’ reasoning, the case should be completely returned to the lower court, so that Lange has the opportunity to argue that the case is an “unusual case” and the “general rules” on hot pursuit do not apply. More broadly, Roberts severely criticized Kagan’s majority opinion, saying that it had achieved “absurd and dangerous results” that were difficult to apply and put the police in danger.
This post is Originally published in Howe on the Court.