U.S. Supreme Court weighs in on hot pursuits

On Behalf of | Oct 22, 2021 | Criminal Defense

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prevents the government from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures. To ensure officers respect the fundamental rights of Americans, they typically must obtain a warrant before searching or arresting individuals.

There are many exceptions to the search and seizure warrant requirement, of course. These exceptions come from the need to balance fundamental rights with the enforcement of the law. One of these exceptions is the freedom officers often have to pursue suspects into buildings and other places.

The nature of hot pursuits

Hot pursuits generally happen when officers observe criminal conduct and are actively trying to detain a suspect. Recently, an officer suspected a California man was driving under the influence of alcohol. Rather than stopping his vehicle, the man drove home and entered his house. The officer followed into the suspect’s home and arrested the man.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion

In Lange v. California, a majority of the justices on the U.S. Supreme Court determined the officer had violated the man’s Fourth Amendment rights. Writing for the majority, Justice Kagan noted the lack of ongoing danger to the public. That is, after the man returned home, he no longer posed a risk to other drivers or pedestrians. Consequently, in the Supreme Court’s view, the officer should have obtained a warrant before going inside the suspect’s home.

While the Lange case largely turns on its specific facts, it also highlights an important point for anyone facing criminal charges. Ultimately, if officers conduct a search or make an arrest during a hot pursuit, it may be advisable to investigate whether the search and arrest both pass constitutional muster.