High court ruled that officers cannot enter homes without warrants if they are trying to pursue someone suspected of a misdemeanor or a lesser crime.
In cases involving more serious crimes, the court previously granted police greater access to homes. The 1976 case saw the justices stating that police can enter homes without warrants if they are "hot pursuit" of suspects suspected of having committed a felony.
The Wednesday case that the justices ruled on Wednesday is significant for law enforcement as well as privacy groups. However, it does not give police any clear guidelines as to when they can enter a house to pursue someone accused of a misdemeanor.
"A warrantless entry to a residence is not necessary for a fleeing suspected misdemeanant." To determine if there is an emergency, the officer must take into account all circumstances in a pursuit case. In many cases, an officer will have good cause to enter the house to stop imminent harms, destruction of evidence or escape. The officer must get a warrant if he has the time -- even if the misdemeanant fled." Justice Elena Kagan wrote in a majority opinion that seven court members, including conservatives and liberals.
Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justice Samuel Alito stated that a suspect's decision to run alone should allow police to chase that person into a house. They said that the majority's opinion is too complicated for officers to think about during a chase and provides "no guidance."
Roberts wrote, "The Constitution doesn't demand this absurdity and dangerous result."
Elizabeth Wydra, president and founder of the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center said that it is still to be seen how the decision will affect the real world. While the decision doesn't bar police from entering homes to pursue misdemeanor suspects, it does not allow them to do so.
She wrote that the Court had refused to grant police unrestricted entry to the home as the country continued to struggle with the limitations and problems of law enforcement's power.
Larry H. James, the general counsel of the National Fraternal Order of Police filed a brief in this case. He stated that he doesn't see much change for police because of the ruling. According to him, the decision instructs police to continue doing what they do every day: "Use your common sense and use your training." If it isn't, you can get a warrant.
Arthur Lange, a California resident was involved in the case before the justices. Officer saw Lange driving in Sonoma County in a station wagon, playing loud music and honking his horn multiple times. He believed that these were noise violations and he followed Lange. To get Lange to slow down, the officer turned on the lights in his car. Lange drove for approximately four seconds and then turned into his driveway. He entered his garage unassisted.
Lange was being closed garage door, so the officer got out of his vehicle and put his foot under it to open it again. Lange was eventually arrested when he smelled alcohol in his breath and was charged with driving while impaired as well as excessive noise.
Lange claimed that the officer's entry in the garage without a warrant violated Lange's Fourth Amendment right to be free from "unreasonable searches or seizures."