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Supreme Court ruling limits when police can enter a home without a warrant

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Posted at 8:16 AM, Jun 23, 2021

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court vacated a ruling by a lower court that held a police officer was justified in entering a man's garage on the basis that the suspect had fled a misdemeanor charge.

The high court's ruling in Lange v. California on Wednesday said that fleeing a misdemeanor charge does not always mean there is justification for police to enter a home without a warrant.

The case involved a man, Arthur Lange, who fled an officer who attempted to pull him over for playing loud music and honking his horn. Lange drove a short distance to his home and pulled into his garage.

Officers followed Lange into the garage and put him through a field sobriety test. A blood test later confirmed that his blood alcohol content was three times above the legal limit.

Lange argued that officers should not have been able to enter his garage to conduct a field sobriety test without a warrant. In a 7-2 ruling, the Supreme Court agreed, vacating a lower court ruling.

However, the court said in its ruling that there may be circumstances that do allow for police to enter a home without a warrant — but that in this case, the threshold was not met.

"When the totality of circumstances shows an emergency—a need to act before it is possible to get a warrant—the police may act without waiting," Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the majority opinion. "Those circumstances include the flight itself. But pursuit of a misdemeanant does not trigger a categorical rule allowing a warrantless home entry."

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote a dissenting opinion, which Justice Samuel Alito joined.