California motorist arrested at home by Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday in favor of a California motorist who said a police officer violated his right to privacy by following him home and then to his garage, where he was fined for driving in bad condition. drunkenness.

By a 9-0 vote, the judges overturned his conviction and said the 4th Amendment generally bars police from entering a driveway or house unless it is a true emergency or a search warrant.

In Lange v. California, the High Court overturned the opinion of California state judges who said that the police can follow a person if they are “on hot pursuit” even if the suspect’s offense is minor and could give rise to to a ticket.

In this case, a California Highway Patrol officer decided to follow Arthur Lange because he was playing loud music on his car stereo.

Judge Elena Kagan said the case did not involve the prosecution of a felon on the run from the scene of a major crime. Lange has been charged with a misdemeanor.

“The need to prosecute an offense does not trigger a categorical rule allowing home entry, even in the absence of a police emergency,” she wrote. “Where the nature of the crime, the nature of the theft and the surrounding facts do not present such a requirement, officers must respect the sanctity of the home, which means they must obtain a warrant,” she wrote. .

Although all nine justices agreed with the outcome of the Lange case, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote a partial dissent. They said police should be given leeway to prosecute a fleeing suspect, regardless of the nature of the crime.

Roberts said Wednesday’s decision would be confusing for police. “It is flight, and not the underlying offense, that has always been understood to justify the general rule:” Police officers can enter premises without a warrant while in pursuit of a fleeing suspect “” he wrote, citing a 2011 ruling article that confirmed an officer’s prosecution of a drug suspect who fled to an apartment.

Lange’s case was different, however, as he was unaware that the agent was following him and, therefore, was not a suspect on the run.

Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh said he agreed with the court’s ruling, but stressed that his opinion “does not disturb the long-established rule that the pursuit of a fugitive criminal is in itself an urgent circumstance justifying entry without a warrant into a house “.

Atty of California. General Rob Bonta applauded the decision and said it “strengthens protections against warrantless entry into the house.”

Although Lange’s conviction for impaired driving was upheld by the California courts, the state Department of Justice refused to defend the result when the High Court agreed to hear the case.

Instead, a state prosecutor argued that the state court’s “categorical” rule allowing police to follow a suspect to their home even for a minor offense was unconstitutional, the position taken by the High Court.

The case began in October 2016 when Lange, a retired real estate broker, was returning home to Sonoma County and listening to loud music. He caught the attention of a CHP agent who began to follow him.

Seconds before Lange pulled into his driveway, the officer said he turned on the flashing lights on his patrol car. He followed the motorist to his garage and questioned him. The officer smelled alcohol on his breath and wrote Lange a ticket for impaired driving and for “using the audio system of a vehicle at excessive levels”.

In response, Lange said the charges should be dismissed because the officer violated the 4th Amendment ban on “unreasonable searches and seizures” when he entered his driveway and garage without a search warrant.

Usually, police cannot enter private property unless they have a warrant or respond to an emergency, including a so-called immediate pursuit of a fugitive criminal.

Prosecutors argued that because Lange did not stop when the police car turned on its lights, the officer was justified in chasing him into his garage.

A Superior Court judge and a California appeals court agreed. “Because the officer was chasing a suspect he had probable cause of arrest, the officer’s warrantless entry into Lange’s driveway and garage was legal,” the officer said. state court.

Reversing the state appeals court, Kagan said “an officer must consider all of the circumstances in a prosecution case to determine whether there is a law enforcement emergency.”


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