When the police enter a home, they generally need a search warrant — or an exception to the search warrant requirement. While there are exceptions, when it comes to your home, the courts take the warrant requirement very seriously.
One of the exceptions is “hot pursuit” of a suspect. In such a case, the suspect flees from the police and enters his or her own residence. Assuming they have probable cause to believe a crime has been committed, the police may be allowed to follow the fleeing suspect, even if it means entering the residence.
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits government agents like police officers from “unreasonable searches and seizures,” which includes entering a private home. Hot pursuit is one area where the courts have decided the police’s warrantless entry into a home may be reasonable.
But what if the crime they suspect has been committed is a DUI — just a misdemeanor, in most cases? Would it still be reasonable for the police to follow a DUI suspect into his or her home?
The U.S. Supreme Court has just agreed to hear a case in which police followed a DUI suspect, allegedly in hot pursuit, into his home without a warrant. The case involved Arthur L. of California.
The officer in question noticed Arthur playing loud music in his car and then honking his horn. This apparently made the officer suspicious that Arthur was intoxicated, so he followed Arthur from a distance. He did not initiate a traffic stop or activate his lights or siren.
It was only when Arthur clicked on his garage door opener that the officer activated the lights on his patrol car and pulled into Arthur’s driveway behind Arthur’s car.
Arthur didn’t stop. He continued to pull into his garage and park the car. This, the officer perceived as flight.
Before the garage door could roll down, the officer put his foot across the line to reopen it. He then entered Arthur’s residence. There, he said he could smell alcohol on Arthur’s breath and initiated an arrest.
The lower court ruled that Arthur had indeed fled the officer and the officer was in hot pursuit when he prevented the garage door from closing. As a result, the evidence against Arthur was admitted into court.
Should the police be allowed to follow misdemeanor suspects into their homes in hot pursuit?
If the court rules that the officer lawfully followed Arthur into his home despite the apparent lack of emergency, this would be the first time it has ruled that hot pursuit of a misdemeanor suspect justifies a warrantless home entry. It could profoundly change the stakes for DUI and other misdemeanors.