Exigent circumstances can be considered an exception to the Fourth Amendment requirement that police must obtain a warrant before entering a suspect’s home. For example, the “hot pursuit” of a suspect fleeing police can create an exigent circumstance for police to enter the fleeing suspect’s home without a warrant. But, what if the suspect is fleeing from a mere misdemeanor crime?
In Lange v. California, 141 S. Ct. 2011, 2013 (2021), the United States Supreme Court considered a case, where the suspect was observed by law enforcement honking his horn and playing loud music. The observing officer subsequently initiated a traffic stop of the suspect, but the suspect drove to his home and entered the garage. The officer then followed the suspect into his garage and begin administering field sobriety tests and questioning the suspect.
The Court declined to hold that the pursuit of any fleeing suspect justifies warrantless entry into a home. See id. Alternatively, the Court held that “under the Fourth Amendment, pursuit of a fleeing misdemeanor suspect does not always…categorically justify warrantless entry into a home.” Lange, 141 S. Ct. at 2013. The Court’s considered the fact that the nature of most misdemeanor crimes are less violent and less serious in refusing to issue a blanket ruling that all fleeing misdemeanor suspects will trigger an exigent circumstance to create an exception to the warrant requirement. Therefore, with minor offenses, officers usually will not face an emergency justifying warrantless home entry, unlike more dangerous felony crimes.
However, in United States v. Santana, 96 S. Ct. 2406 (1976), the Court did uphold a warrantless entry into a felony suspect’s home, where the suspect tried to retreat into their home to evade an arrest that began in a public place. In assessing whether or not exigent circumstances exist to enter a home without a warrant, the Court will always consider the totality of the circumstances, including the flight itself.