The Supreme Court announced Monday that it will weigh in on exceptions to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. The Fourth Amendment generally requires police officers to get a warrant before entering a home.
The Supreme Court has recognized an exception to that rule for emergencies, such as when the police are in hot pursuit of a suspect. In Lange v. California, the justices agreed to decide whether that exception applies when police are pursuing a suspect whom they believe committed a misdemeanor.
The case revolves around Arthur Lange of Sonoma, Calif., who was driving home on the highway in Sonoma. California highway patrol (CHP) officer Aaron Weikert pursued Lange with the intention of conducting a traffic stop. Weikert followed Lange home and activated his overhead lights, but not his siren, when he pulled into his home’s driveway.
Lange pulled into his garage and, as the garage door began closing behind him, Weikert stopped the garage from closing with his foot and approached Lange.
The CHP officer questioned Lange and asked him if he knew Weikert was following him. Lange said no. Weikert stated he smelled alcohol on Lange’s breath and charged Lange with driving under the influence. At trial, Lange claimed that Weikert’s entry into Lange’s home violated the Fourth Amendment since the CHP officer did not have a warrant to enter Lange’s home, and moved to throw out a video recording of the incident.
The trial court rejected that argument, and a state appeals court affirmed that ruling and, eventually, his conviction.
The California Court of Appeal also upheld his conviction, rebuffing Lange’s contention that the exception to the warrant requirement for a “hot pursuit” of a suspect should apply only in genuine emergencies, rather than when the police are investigating minor offenses. Instead, the court of appeal concluded, the warrantless entry did not violate the Constitution because the officer was in hot pursuit of Lange, whom he had probable cause to arrest for a misdemeanor.
Lange appealed to the Supreme Court, asking the justices to review the state court’s decision. The lower courts are “sharply divided” on the question of whether pursuits for misdemeanors justify a warrantless entry, Lange told the justices. And the California court’s rule, he added, would allow “officers investigating trivial offenses to invade the privacy of all occupants of a home even when no emergency prevents them from seeking a warrant.”
The case will likely be scheduled for argument in February 2021 or later, according to Amy Howe, writing in Scotusblog.
Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.