Supreme Court Ruling Denies Police Entry

Last week, the Supreme Court denied police the automatic power to enter homes without a warrant when they’re in pursuit of a misdemeanor crime.  Unless there is an imminent threat of violence or destruction of evidence, officers will now be required to obtain a warrant if it can be done so in a timely manner.

The ruling steam from a case where an officer was attempting to pull over a driver.  The driver parked near his home and slid under the garage door, claiming later that he did not see the patrol car behind him.  The officer then entered the home and arrested the man for DUI.  After much debate, the Court ruled that the officer would only be able to enter if he believed he was stopping a felony, instead of a misdemeanor.

Though this may seem like a small difference, civil liberty groups argued that this could greatly expand police powers in the eyes of the courts.  There were also concerns from Chief Judge Roberts that the ruling may require police to make a determination about whether they are pursuing a felony of a misdemeanor, all in real time.  He stated, “The Constitution does not demand this absurd and dangerous result. We should not impose it.”

Justice Elene Kagan wrote, “On many occasions, the officer will have good reason to enter – to prevent imminent harms of violence, destruction of evidence, or escape from the home.  But when the officer has time to get a warrant, he must do so – even though the misdemeanant fled.”

Supreme Courts in five states previously upheld rulings that justified pursuit during a suspected misdemeanor.  However, in the light of heightened scrutiny on police actions, subsequent appeals courts ruled otherwise.   Some drunk driving groups were concerned the ruling would set a bad precedent, while other groups advocating for Fourth Amendment rights protection were in support of the Supreme Court’s ruling.