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Justices Say Police Must Think Before Pursuing Suspect Without Warrant

— June 23, 2021

However, the justice failed to establish any guideline for law enforcement pursuing a person suspected of committing a minor offense.

The Supreme Court has determined that, unless there is an emergency, police must decide on a case-by-case basis whether to pursue a fleeing suspect into their own home without a warrant.

According to CNN, the unanimous decision was penned by Justice Elena Kagan.

While the bench agreed that officers should exercise restraint while pursuing persons suspected of having committed minor offenses, they differed in their reasoning.

“The flight of a suspected misdemeanant does not always justify a warrantless entry into a home. An officer must consider all the circumstances in a pursuit case to determine whether there is a law enforcement emergency,” Kagan wrote. “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.”

A classically designed stone building with Corinthian columns and a carved frieze, with a clear blue sky in the background.
The Supreme Court building. Photo by Mark Thomas, courtesy of Pixabay.

However, Chief Justice John Roberts—along with Justice Samuel Alito—opined that police should ordinarily be able to pursue a lone suspect into the suspect’s home without having to first obtain a warrant.

Despite siding with their colleagues, Roberts and Alito felt that Kagan’s ruling would make it more difficult for police officers to effectively do their jobs.

CNN notes that a lower court had earlier ruled that law enforcement never need a warrant in such circumstances.

“Because the California Court of Appeal applied the categorical rule we reject today,” Kagan wrote, “we vacate its judgement and remand the case for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.”

The case, adds CNN, relates to a “hot pursuit” which took place in 2016. A California highway patrolman observed a motorist playing loud music and honking their horn for no reason.

Officer Aaron Weikert then began to follow the car, driven by Arthur Lange.

When Lange pulled into his driver, the officer activated his vehicle’s lights—but instead of stopping, Lange pulled into his garage, then attempted to close the door. However, Weikert was able to catch the door before it closed. He then confronted Lange; believing he was intoxicated, he performed a sobriety test, then charged Lange for driving while intoxicated.

In court, Lange’s attorney—Jeffrey Fisher—told the bench that the lower court’s ruling on warrantless entries was wrong because “the governmental interest in navigating minor offenses is not always or even usually strong enough to support home entries unsanctioned by judicial officers.” Only “concrete” emergencies, Fisher suggested, permit police to enter a home without having first obtained a warrant.


High court limits when police can enter home without warrant

Police will sometimes need warrants to pursue fleeing suspects into their homes, Supreme Court rules

Supreme Court balks at automatic warrantless searches when police are in ‘hot pursuit’ for lesser crimes

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