The Supreme Court dropped a stunning decision on Wednesday that limited the ability of police to enter the homes of Americans without a warrant. The court ruled in Lange v. California that police cannot always enter the home of an individual suspected of committing a misdemeanor.
Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the majority opinion that, “The flight of a suspected misdemeanant does not always justify a warrantless entry into a home. When the officer has time to get a warrant, he must do so—even though the misdemeanant fled.”
This ruling takes an important step to reinforce the necessity of warrants. Police are not free to disregard the need for a warrant unless there is a strong suspicion that the suspect will harm someone or himself.
Larry H. James, general counsel for the National Fraternal Order of Police, weighed in on the decision saying, “The decision tells police to do what they always do, he said, which is ‘use your common sense, use your training. When the situation warrants immediate action, take it. When it doesn’t, get a warrant.”
This decision will not affect situations involving a felony suspect. If police are pursuing someone suspected of committing a felony, they are free to take the necessary measures to apprehend such individuals.
Despite this ruling, questions remain around the situation of pursuing misdemeanor suspects. The Supreme Court has put the responsibility, and thus the liability, of making an important decision on a pursuing officer.
This has the potential to create more litigation and legal headaches for police officers who now have to make a subjective argument about why they did or did not enter a residence to pursue a suspect.
Regardless of the questions that remain, the Supreme Court is sending a clear message. The property rights of Americans will be fiercely protected.