Police Need Warrant to Enter Home for DUI Investigation

Posted by Phillip CrawfordOct 29, 2021

US Supreme Court Rules Police Must Have Warrant to Enter Home for DUI Investigation

            In June 2021, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion in Lange v. California that further fortified our Fourth Amendment constitutional rights.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the right of all people to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The California State Constitution also guarantees this same right in Article 1, Section 13. The purpose of these constitutional rights is to prevent the police from harassing people who have not done anything wrong. These rights mean that the police cannot search your person, your home, your vehicle, or your things unless one of the following is true: (1) The police have a search warrant; or (2) the police have a valid exception to the warrant requirement.

            In 2016, Mr. Arthur Lange was driving home when he caught the attention of a California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer. Mr. Lange was apparently listening to loud music with his windows down while also honking his horn repeatedly. The CHP officer turned on his overhead lights to attempt to pull Mr. Lange over. Mr. Lange kept driving a short distance to his driveway; he then exited his car and attempted to enter his home through his garage. However, the CHP officer followed Mr. Lange into his garage and detained him. After detaining Mr. Lange, the officer smelled alcohol and arrested Mr. Lange for DUI.

            Mr. Lange challenged the constitutionality of his detention because the CHP officer entered his home (garage) without a warrant. Both the trial court and the California Court of Appeal determined that the CHP's actions were lawful because the officer was in “hot pursuit” of a fleeing criminal. The “hot pursuit” doctrine permits police officers to follow and arrest people fleeing or evading arrest by entering their home without a warrant. Previously, the “hot pursuit” doctrine was found to apply to felony cases. The question in Mr. Lange's case was whether this “hot pursuit” exception would apply where only misdemeanor offenses are suspected.  

            Fortunately, Mr. Lange took his case all the way to the United State Supreme Court, where his constitutional rights were finally vindicated. In this case, the US Supreme Court issued a rare unanimous decision, finding that the police violated Mr. Lange's constitutional rights. The Supreme Court found that the “hot pursuit” doctrine does not automatically apply in misdemeanor cases. The Court held that the police can only enter the home in pursuit of a misdemeanor offender if there is an emergency such as: (1) imminent harm to others; (2) a threat to the officer himself; (3) destruction of evidence; or (4) escape from the home. Even if there is an “emergency” present, the police still need to show that waiting for a warrant would likely hinder a compelling law enforcement need. If no emergency is present, then the police have to obtain a warrant to enter the home. Simply put, the Court indicated that if the police have time to get a warrant, they need to do so.

            The Lange case is a huge victory in the fight against police misconduct and invasion of privacy rights. This case makes it clear that the police are not automatically allowed to enter your home just because they believe that you have committed a misdemeanor offense in their presence.

If you have been arrested for a DUI and you think the police violated your rights, call our Santa Cruz DUI attorney, Phillip Crawford and schedule a free consultation. We want to fight for you.