The Supreme Court ruled on June 23 that police need a search warrant to enter an individual’s home when pursuing that person for a minor offense.
After making their decision, the court sent the case back to a lower court to determine if a California man’s Fourth Amendment rights had been violated by police when they entered his home for allegedly blasting loud music on a deserted highway late at night.
Justice Elena Kegan wrote of her opinion of the unanimous ruling in Lange v. California that the police’s actions were not warranted for such a trivial crime. She wrote that while police have a right to enter the home of a suspect fleeing from a serious offense, a warrantless entry is not justified by a minor crime.
“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,” she wrote. “But when the officer has time to get a warrant, he must do so — even though the misdemeanant fled.”
The case of Arthur Lange came to the Supreme Court after he was arrested for playing loud music in his car and honking his horn late at night. A California Highway Patrol Officer followed him to his driveway, believing he had violated a noise ordinance, and turned his lights on when the man was entering his garage.
The officer pursued Lange, putting his foot under the closing garage door sensor to keep the door from closing. Once inside, he confronted Lange and smelled alcohol on his breath, whereupon he arrested him for driving under the influence and a noise complaint. The officer did not have a warrant.
Lang appealed his charge and argued that the officer had no right to enter his home without a warrant, and that the DUI evidence was illegally obtained.
Kegan concluded in their ruling: “Pursuit of a misdemeanant does not trigger a categorical rule allowing a warrantless home entry.”