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U.S. Supreme Court Issues Important Opinion Affecting Massachusetts’ Police Officers Ability to Pursue Suspects

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.

The defendant appealed the state court rulings to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he challenged the rule permitting police to enter the home of any fleeing misdemeanor suspect without a warrant. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the defendant, holding that while police can enter the home of a fleeing felony suspect with no warrant, the categorical rule that applies the “hot pursuit” exception to misdemeanor suspects was unconstitutional. The Court found that situations in which fleeing misdemeanor suspects enter their homes must be handled on a case-by-case basis to determine if an actual exigent circumstance existed to justify the lack of a warrant. As a result of the ruling, the defendant’s conviction has been reversed and he will likely not be re-charged with the crime.

Have You Been Charged with a Misdemeanor in Massachusetts?

If you or someone you know has been charged with a misdemeanor or felony in Massachusetts, you should remember that the police who investigated your case may not have acted in accordance with state laws or constitutional protections. Evidence against you may be inadmissible in your case, and you may be entitled to charges being dropped or significantly reduced. A qualified Massachusetts criminal defense attorney can investigate your case and give you the best chance of an outcome you desire. At the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy, our skilled Boston criminal defense lawyer understand the rules that criminal prosecutions must abide by, and we can use those rules to help you beat your charges. Our attorneys represent clients charged with all types of Massachusetts crimes, including misdemeanors, felonies, and Massachusetts OWI crimes. Contact our office at 617-367-0450 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a Boston criminal defense attorney.

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