On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the police could not always enter a home without a warrant when they were pursuing an individual for a minor crime. It sent the case back to a lower court. The Supreme Court had said that the police may conduct a warrantless search when they were pursuing a felon who was fleeing. However, the judge said that pursuing a misdemeanant does not allow a warrantless entry.
Arthur Lange was playing loud music in his car, late one night. He also honked his horn several times. A California highway patrol officer thought that he violated a noise ordinance. So, he followed Lange. When Lange slowed down to enter his driveway, the officer put on his flashing lights.
Lange later said that he did not notice the officer. He entered his garage. The officer in “hot pursuit” exited his car and put his foot under the garage door which was closing. He had no warrant, but he entered Lang’s home.
Once inside, the officer said that he smelled liquor on Lange’s breath. So, he arrested him for both noise violation and for driving under the influence.
Lange appealed the sentence, right up to the highest court in the nation. He said that the officer has no right to enter his home without a warrant. He also said that the driving under the influence evidence was obtained illegally.
Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the unanimous court ruling and said that police had no right to enter the man’s home for such a petty offense. The ruling also said that on many occasions the officer would have good reason to enter a home for example to prevent imminent harm, to prevent destruction of evidence and to escape from the home. She added that when the officer had “the time to get a warrant, he must do so — even though the misdemeanant fled.”
She also wrote that pursuing of a misdemeanant did not trigger a categorical rule “allowing a warrantless home entry.”