Lange v. California
Does pursuit of a person who a police officer has probable cause to believe has committed a misdemeanor categorically qualify as an exigent circumstance sufficient to allow the officer to enter a home without a warrant?Advocates
- Jeffrey Fisher, for the petitioner
- Samuel Harbourt, for the respondent supporting vacatur
- Amanda Rice, Court-appointed amicus curiae in support of the judgment below
- Erica Ross, for the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting affirmance
This case arises out of a police officer’s decision to stick his foot under a garage door. Pretty trivial, right? Arthur Lange’s case appears to be a fairly ordinary one, but underlying it are some difficult questions about warrantless entries into one’s home that the Supreme Court’s Fourth Amendment cases have left unresolved. A police officer followed Lange home after he failed to heed (or just didn’t notice; it’s not clear) the officer’s attempt to conduct a traffic stop. Lange parked his car in his garage and started to close the door; the officer then blocked the door with his foot, and arrested Lange within his home.
The Fourth Amendment’s exigent circumstances doctrine excuses police from seeking a warrant when the circumstances are serious enough. And the Court has permitted the warrantless entry of a home when the police engage in a “hot pursuit” of someone suspected of having just committed a felony. But where should Lange’s case fall? Should the Court define a bright-line rule encompassing Lange’s misdemeanor facts, or should it apply the case-by-case exigent circumstances doctrine?
The Justices clearly struggled with trying to articulate a rule that was workable for the police, made sense in light of common law traditions, and accounted for two realities beyond their control: the sheer number of misdemeanor offenses under state law today, and the potential for danger when a person evades the police by entering their home. For these reasons, the Chief Justice’s question here posed an opportunity to try and address some of these concerns.Lange v. California on Oyez: https://www.oyez.org/cases/2020/20-18