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Can police follow you into your home over an alleged misdemeanor?

by | Oct 23, 2020 | Criminal Defense

Arthur L. was playing his music loudly and honking his horn. That got the attention of a California highway patrol officer, who began following Arthur from a distance. The officer intended to initiate a traffic stop but didn’t take any action like activating his lights and siren.

It was only when Arthur arrived home and clicked on his garage door opener that the officer activated his lights. He pulled into the driveway behind Arthur. As the garage door was rolling down, the officer stuck his foot beneath it to force it to reopen and entered Arthur’s residence.

At that point, the officer claims he smelled alcohol on Arthur’s breath. He arrested Arthur for driving drunk.

Did the officer have the right to force his way into Arthur’s garage without a warrant? In general, police are required to get a warrant or consent before entering your home.

Arthur attempted to get the evidence of the allegedly alcohol-smelling breath thrown out at trial, but the trial court and an appeals court ruled that there was an exception to the warrant requirement that applied to the situation.

According to those courts, the fact that Arthur continued to drive into his garage when the officer had turned on his lights constituted “flight.” The officer, following Arthur into the garage, was in “hot pursuit.”

Police are allowed to pursue suspects who flee when they are in “hot pursuit.” But should this exception to the usual warrant requirement apply when the person is suspected of a minor offense? The “hot pursuit” exception is generally thought to involve an emergency situation. Is it an emergency when a person is suspected of a misdemeanor?

Arthur has appealed his conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear his petition. He argues that police should not be freed from the traditional warrant requirement when in hot pursuit of a misdemeanor suspect, especially at their home.

A 2013 case called Florida v. Jardines states that garages and other parts of the “curtilage,” or area immediately surrounding a home, is specifically protected by the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. The home and curtilage is supposed to receive heightened protection from searches.

What constitutes an unreasonable search?

The Supreme Court will have to decide whether it was reasonable to continue “hot pursuit” of a misdemeanor suspect even though he had arrived at his home. Was the officer really in “hot pursuit”? Did Arthur actually flee? Why did the officer feel it was necessary to enter Arthur’s home without a warrant when he could easily have issued a citation at a later time?

How much heat should the police engage when the crime is a misdemeanor?

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