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U.S. Supreme Court Vacates Conviction Under 4th Amendment Violation

Lange v. California Docket: 20-18, Opinion Date: June 23, 2021. Lange drove by a California highway patrol officer, playing loud music and honking his horn. The officer followed Lange and soon turned on his overhead lights to signal Lange to pull over. Rather than stopping, Lange drove a short distance to his driveway and entered his attached garage. Without obtaining a warrant, the officer followed Lange into the garage, questioned him, and, after observing signs of intoxication, put him through field sobriety tests. Charged with misdemeanor DUI, Lange moved to suppress the evidence obtained after the officer entered his garage. California courts rejected his Fourth Amendment arguments. The Supreme Court vacated. Under the Fourth Amendment, the pursuit of a fleeing misdemeanor suspect does not always justify a warrantless entry into a home. Precedent favors a case-by-case assessment of exigency when deciding whether a suspected misdemeanant’s flight justifies a warrantless home entry. Such exigencies may exist when an officer must act to prevent imminent injury, the destruction of evidence, or a suspect’s escape. Misdemeanors may be minor. When a minor offense (and no flight) is involved, police officers do not usually face the kind of emergency that can justify a warrantless home entry. Adding a suspect’s flight does not change the situation enough to justify a categorical rule. When the totality of circumstances (including the flight itself) show an emergency—a need to act before it is possible to get a warrant—the police may act without waiting. Common law afforded the home strong protection from government intrusion and did not include a categorical rule allowing warrantless home entry when a suspected misdemeanant flees.

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