A man's home is his castle. The Constitution does not explicitly say that, but cases have said that. It means the police cannot enter your home without a warrant, or unless there is an emergency that requires immediate entry. We call them "exigent" circumstances." This case explores the exigent circumstances principle.
The case is Lange v. California, a Supreme Court case issued on June 23. While driving his car, Lange was playing the music at concert hall volume and honking his horn. This attracted the attention of a police officer, who activated his overhead lights and followed Lange all the way to his house. This was not really a high-speed chase, as Lange lived nearby. The officer followed Lange into his house and tested him for alcohol, finding that Lange's blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit, which explains the loud music and horn-honking. Question: was this search legal? That depends on whether the officer had the right to enter Lange's home.
The Supreme Court many years ago devised the "exigent circumstances" to warrant rule in recognition that sometimes the police need to act quickly to deal with an imminent emergency, such as the destruction of evidence, or a health risk. But what distinguishes this case from the others is that Lange was involved in a misdemeanor "chase" and not a felony. While some misdemeanor cases are actually more serious than felonies, such as domestic violence cases, most misdemeanors are minor offenses that do not involve violence or serious emergencies. Justice Kagan writes:
Our Fourth Amendment precedents thus point toward assessing case by case the exigencies arising from misdemeanants’ flight. That approach will in many, if not most, cases allow a warrantless home entry. When the totality of circumstances shows an emergency—such as imminent harm to others, a threat to the officer himself, destruction of evidence, or escape from the home—the police may act without waiting. And those circumstances, as described just above, include the flight itself. But the need to pursue a misdemeanant does not trigger a categorical rule allowing home entry, even absent a law enforcement emergency. When the nature of the crime, the nature of the flight, and surrounding facts present no such exigency, officers must respect the sanctity of the home—which means that they must get a warrant.So there is no hard-and-fast rule in cases like this. But the Court is saying that misdemeanor cases may not always justify a warrantless entry into someone's home. The case now returns to a California court to apply the principles set forth in this case.