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Can the Police Enter Your Home on Suspicion of a Misdemeanor?

Posted by Lynn Gorelick | Mar 09, 2021 | 0 Comments

If the police suspect someone committed a misdemeanor, can the officer enter the suspect's house without a warrant? The Supreme Court recently heard a California case where an officer entered a driver's garage without a warrant because the officer believed the driver had committed a misdemeanor vehicle violation.  

Lange v. California Traffic Stop

Arthur Lange was driving his car one evening in Sonoma. A California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer saw the driver playing music loudly and unnecessarily honking the car's horn. The CHP followed the driver to conduct a traffic stop. By the time the officer put on his lights and sirens, Lange was almost home. Instead of stopping, Lange pulled into his garage and began to close the door. 

The officer ran to the garage and put his foot under the door, causing the garage to open back up. The officer walked into Lange's garage, observed signs of intoxication, and took Lange into custody. When Lange's blood alcohol content (BAC) was tested, it showed a BAC of 0.245%, over 3 times the legal limit. 

Hot Pursuit of Playing Music Too Loud?

The question before the Supreme Court is, “Whether pursuit of a person who a police officer has probable cause to believe has committed a misdemeanor offense categorically qualifies as an exigent circumstance sufficient to allow the officer to enter a home without a warrant.”

Generally, an officer needs a warrant to enter a suspect's home. However, there are some exceptions, including where there may be an immediate risk the suspect will destroy evidence or if someone is in imminent harm. Another exception is where the officer is in “hot pursuit” of a suspect but the prior cases generally involved felony offenses. 

Some courts have allowed the “hot pursuit” exception to include misdemeanors that are punishable by jail time. Now, the question of whether these search and seizure exceptions are constitutional is before the Supreme Court

Misdemeanor DUI and Unlawful Entry into a Person's Home

According to a brief submitted by the ACLU, the Fourth Amendment and Court precedent, “all make clear that the sanctity of the home is of paramount concern.” Meanwhile, even minor offenses can be charged as a misdemeanor, including jaywalking, littering, or spitting in public. These types of minor offenses should not justify a police officer following a suspect into their home without a warrant. 

Violation of Your Constitutional Rights in a DUI Arrest

The police and CHP already violate the constitutional rights of many Californians in pursuing drunk driving arrests. This includes stopping a driver without reasonable suspicion, arresting a driver without probable cause, or using an illegal search to gather evidence of a violation. 

Unfortunately, many drivers are not aware their rights may have been violated. Instead, the threats by the prosecutor convince them to take a plea bargain even if they are innocent. Before pleading guilty to any criminal charge, make sure you have a chance to talk to an experienced attorney about your rights. 

Alameda and Contra Costa DUI Defense

With over 37 years of experience, Lynn Gorelick understands how the police try to bend the rules to get an arrest, even if it means violating the rights of the driver. If you are facing a DUI, contact the local East Bay DUI defense attorney who understands that you do not have to plead guilty just because you were arrested. 

About the Author

Lynn Gorelick

Lynn Gorelick has been an attorney for over 36 years. She is the Attorney Lynn Gorelick is the Immediate Past President of the California DUI Lawyers Association and a Faculty and Sustaining member of the National College of DUI Defense. Lynn is a Specialist Member of the California DUI Lawyers Association and lectures frequently to other attorneys regarding DUI and DMV issues.

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