THE CALIFORNIA LEGAL UPDATE
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July 13, 2021
July 13, 2021
Deputy District Attorney (Retired)
THIS EDITION’S WORDS OF WISDOM:
“I told my wife I wanted to be cremated. She made me an appointment for Tuesday.”
Fleeing Misdemeanants and Hot Pursuits by Law Enforcement
COURT CASE REFERENCE: Lange v. California (June 23, 2021) __ U.S.__ [__ S.Ct. __; __ L.Ed.2nd __; 2021 U.S. LEXIS 3396]
LEGAL UPDATES REFERENCE NO. CAC00037
Flight from law enforcement into one’s home by a misdemeanor suspect, by itself, without any articulable reason to believe an exigency exists above and beyond the flight itself, does not allow for an officer’s warrantless pursuit into the residence. An exigency, such as a need to prevent (1) imminent harm or violence, (2) the possible destruction of evidence, or (3) the escape of the suspect from the home, must first be shown before a warrantless entry into the suspect’s residence is allowed.
Defendant Arthur Lange—having consumed a bit too much alcohol (later showing a blood-alcohol level of over three times the legal limit for driving)—was enjoying himself on the drive home from where ever he’d been drinking, playing his radio as loud as he could (with his windows rolled down) while repeatedly honking his horn to the beat of Merle Haggard’s classic, “I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink.” (I’m significantly embellishing on the facts here.) This attracted the attention of a California Highway Patrol Officer who—apparently not appreciating the talents of Merle Haggard (still embellishing)—began to follow defendant. Eventually hearing enough, the officer flipped on his overhead lights, attempting to make a traffic stop. Being about a hundred feet (four-seconds driving time) from this home, defendant decided to make a dash for it, ignoring the officer’s attempt to stop him and driving straight into his attached garage. Not in the least deterred, the officer followed defendant into the garage (presumably parking in his driveway) and made contact. Upon observing signs of intoxication, the officer subjected defendant to a field sobriety test on which he did not do well. He was therefore busted and transported to jail. Defendant was charged in state court with the misdemeanor offense of driving while under the influence of alcohol plus a lower-level noise infraction. He thereafter filed a motion to suppress the products of the officer’s warrantless entry into his garage (e.g., the FST results, blood alcohol level, etc.), which was denied by the trial court; a decision that was upheld by the appellate division of the superior court. Division 5 of the First District Court of Appeal affirmed in an unpublished decision, specifically ruling that an “officer’s ‘hot pursuit’ into the house (which includes an attached garage) to prevent the suspect from frustrating the arrest” is always permissible under the exigent-circumstances exception to the warrant requirement. (People v. Lange (Oct. 30, 2019) 2019 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 7266.) In other words, the appellate court held that as a “categorical rule,” it is always lawful for law enforcement to pursue a fleeing misdemeanant into his home. With the California Supreme Court denying review on the matter, defendant appealed to the United States Supreme Court.