Massachusetts police departments and prosecutors regularly rely on exceptions to the general rule requiring a warrant to enter the home of a suspect in order to collect evidence or make an arrest. As courts have carved out exceptions to the warrant requirement, police eagerly use them to make their jobs easier, often in questionable ways. In recent years, police have used what is commonly called the “hot pursuit” exception to enter the home of a fleeing suspect to gather evidence and make an arrest. The United States Supreme Court recently released a decision that will limit law enforcement’s ability to enter the home of a fleeing suspect who has not committed a felony.
The defendant in the recently decided case was seen by a police officer playing loud music and honking his horn repeatedly while driving on a public road. The officer attempted to stop the defendant for alleged motor vehicle infractions and signaled him to pull over. The defendant apparently ignored the police lights and drove a short distance to his garage where he entered the garage and got out of his car. The officer followed the defendant into the garage without obtaining a search or arrest warrant, seeking to cite him for the misdemeanor charge of failing to comply with a police signal. After interacting with the defendant, the officer claimed to notice signs of intoxication. The defendant submitted to a chemical test and was found to have a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit. He was charged with a DUI.
The defendant challenged his arrest before trial. The defendant argued that the officer’s entry into his home without a warrant was a violation of his 4th and 14th amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizure. The trial court rejected the defendant’s motion, finding that the officer was in “hot pursuit” of the defendant and he was entitled to enter his home without a warrant because the pursuit was an exigent circumstance. The defendant was ultimately convicted of the DUI charge and appealed the case to the California Court of Appeals. The California Court of Appeals rejected the defendant’s appeal, finding that pursuit of a fleeing misdemeanor suspect was always an exigent circumstance that justified warrantless entry, and the California Supreme Court declined to hear a further appeal.