Under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, a police officer who is conducting a search and seizure cannot enter a home without a search warrant.
However, there are exceptions and a very important one is the “hot pursuit doctrine.”
Put in its simplest terms, hot pursuit is when there are emergency or “exigent” circumstances and allows the police to enter a dwelling without a warrant to arrest a suspect who has fled there from a public place to avoid arrest.
It must be shown that the chase was contemporaneous with or near in time to the suspect being in the public place, there was an emergency requiring immediate police action, and that the suspect committed a felony.
A very famous example of hot pursuit is the 1994 televised police chase of O.J. Simpson.
This doctrine was first announced by the United States Supreme Court in 1967.
Since then the question has been raised as to whether the doctrine applies to suspects who have committed misdemeanors?
In Michigan the answer is no, but five states, Massachusetts, Ohio, Illinois, North Dakota and New Hampshire, do recognize it.
On Feb. 24, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Lange v California.
In Lange, the defendant was driving his vehicle and was followed to his house by a police officer because he believed the defendant was violating a misdemeanor noise statute.
When Lange opened his garage door and drove his car inside the officer followed him in, smelled alcohol on his breath, and arrested him for drunk driving and violating the statute. He subsequently pleaded no contest to drunk driving and appealed claiming the officer’s entry into the garage violated the Fourth Amendment.
Lange presents the question of whether the hot pursuit doctrine should now be a general rule for all misdemeanors.
There isn’t an easy answer and the justices were concerned about issues such as how to differentiate between felonies and misdemeanors; determining whether a misdemeanor is violent or nonviolent; and individual states having different definitions for misdemeanors.
Because of its significance, this case will be closely watched by the legal and law enforcement communities.
A decision is expected this summer and when it is announced, I will make a full report.