Lange v. California (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2021)

The Federal Docket

Fourth Amendment/Warrantless Entry – Flight of a suspected misdemeanant does not categorically qualify as exigency to allow warrantless entry into a home.

A police officer entered Arthur Lange’s garage without a warrant after pursuing him for the misdemeanor crime of failing to comply with a police signal. Once inside the garage, the officer suspected Lange of intoxication and subjected him to field sobriety tests, which he failed. Following his arrest for misdemeanor driving under the influence of alcohol, Lange filed a motion to suppress all evidence gathered after the officer’s warrantless entry, which he argued violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment.

The State argued that pursuit of a suspected misdemeanant always satisfied the exigency exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement, and the Superior Court agreed, denying Lange’s motion. Lange appealed immediately to the appellate division of the Superior Court, but it upheld the decision. The California Court of Appeal then affirmed the decision as well.

The U.S. Supreme Court, however, vacated the decision, holding that the flight of a person suspected of a misdemeanor does not categorically create exigency sufficient to allow the warrantless entry into a home. Instead, a case-by-case analysis must be performed to see if, under the totality of the circumstances, there is a true emergent need to act before a warrant could be obtained.

Justice Kavanaugh wrote separately in concurrence to note that he did not see a practical difference between the approach of the majority and that of Chief Justice Roberts.

Justice Thomas concurred with all but one subpart of the opinion and wrote separately to assert that the federal exclusionary rule does not apply to evidence obtained in the course of hot pursuit.

Chief Justice Roberts disagreed with the reasoning of the majority, arguing that hot pursuit does, as a rule, create exigency and justify warrantless entry. He noted, however, that there are still exceptions to that rule, and so he nevertheless concurred with the judgment.

On certiorari from the Court of Appeal of California, First Appellate Division
Opinion by Kagan, joined by Breyer, Sotomayor, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett. Joined in part by Thomas.
Concurrence by Kavanaugh
Concurrence in part and in judgement by Thomas, joined in part by Kavanaugh
Concurrence in judgment by Roberts, joined by Alito

Click here to read the opinion

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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