Is SCOTUS right to restrict police home entries in minor crimes?
- On Wednesday, June 23, 2021, the Supreme Court of the United States denied police the “automatic power” to enter homes without warrant for minor crimes.
- The court case was triggered by an event where a police officer drove into a Californian Arthur Lange’s garage to charge him with a DUI. Lange defended his right to the Fourth Amendment to “be free of unreasonable searches and seizures.”
- Justice Elena Kagan noted, “The question presented here is whether the pursuit of a fleeing misdemeanor suspect always - or more legally put, categorically - qualified as an exigent circumstance. We hold it does not.”
- A search warrant allows a police officer to search a certain place for evidence without the owner’s consent. Warrants must be supported by an officer’s legitimate statement, or affidavit, in order to be obtained.
Although courts have allowed exceptions to the Fourth Amendment prohibition against 'unreasonable searches' for police in pursuit of felony suspects, the case that brought about the decision under discussion involved only a misdemeanor. The concern here is that misdemeanors are a very generalized class of crimes. Allowing such broad exceptions would be something like a blank check for warrantless searches, skewing the default position of police needing a warrant to enter someone's home. As David H. Gans wrote on a separate issue for USA Today, allowing the police to do so 'for petty matters such as investigating noise complaints' expands their power too greatly and 'opens the door to horrific police abuse and violence.'
The question of 'exigent circumstances' came up in the Court's discussion and was addressed by Justice Brett Kavanaugh. He noted there is no 'real difference in practice' between having a 'categorical rule' allowing police to enter a home under such circumstances and allowing it without restriction. Justice Elena Kagan wrote that 'the question presented here is whether the pursuit of a fleeing misdemeanor suspect [...] qualifies as an exigent circumstance. We hold it does not.' In the decision, Justice Kagan also mentioned how officers 'will have good reason to enter' in some circumstances, such as preventing violence, for example. Still, however, outside of such instances, police must get a warrant, 'even though the misdemeanant fled.' The SCOTUS decision further clarified that police and courts 'must review the circumstances on a case-by-case basis rather than assuming that a warrantless search is permitted.'
The Supreme Court's decision to restrict police home entries in the case of minor crimes is yet another example of the Court's dismissal of Law & Order in America. As trust in policing has decreased, cities have resorted to changing laws and regulations concerning police officers, which impacts their ability to protect and serve. In an address to congress, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions commented on issues similar to the topic aforementioned, specifically regarding how policing has become politicized.
Through an analysis of the Washington Post's ongoing database of police shootings, none of the 955 deaths were shootings that occurred during unwarranted searches. This exposes a major flaw in the Court's decision, as it only applies to a narrow margin of instances. There is a serious lack of reason demonstrated in the continuous limitations applied to police departments nationwide. The case itself, when looking at the details, does not justify the time its earned in front of the highest court in the land.
In this case, a police officer used his foot to prevent a garage door from closing before arresting a man for driving under the influence. The man returned to his home yet committed the crime outside his house. This gave the officer probable cause to act in a situation of such turmoil and chaos.
As Larry H. James, general counsel for the National Fraternal Order of Police, said, it is critical for officers to 'use common sense.' James finished his statement by exclaiming that this decision will not prevent the police force from protecting and serving.