One of the most important aspects of criminal defense is uncovering instances of police error and procedural abuse. When the police make errors in the investigation, arrest or other aspects of your case, these errors could result in a violation of your constitutional or statutory rights. Evidence that the police obtain from violating your rights is generally not admissible in court (although there are exceptions). Without evidence, the prosecution’s case crumbles and your case many be dismissed and you will go free.
One of the most important applications of this constitutional/evidentiary principle involves warrantless searches – when police search a suspect or enter the premises of a suspect without a warrant. This can happen in cases involving so-called “hot pursuit,” which is the police chasing a fleeing suspect.
If you have been charged with a crime, and the evidence was obtained by a warrantless search involving hot pursuit, is critical to understand the nuances and limitations regarding these warrantless searches and whether the evidence will be admissible under the law.
The warrant requirement
Generally, the police cannot search suspects or enter their homes without a warrant. This is an important protection against police abuse. Without the warrant requirement, police could search people whenever they wanted and enter their homes for no articulable reason at all, leaving people vulnerable to abuses against our privacy.
Although the warrant requirement is generally applicable, numerous exceptions have arisen from case law over the years. These exceptions include plain view (when the police see incriminating evidence in plain view and don’t need a search or entry to find it), consent (when the suspect allows the police to search the premises or person) and terry stops based on reasonable suspicion, to name a few.
The doctrine of hot pursuit is another exception to the general warrant requirement. The hot pursuit exception applies in situations where the police do not have time to obtain a warrant and are following or chasing a fleeing suspect.
When an officer is pursuing a suspect who has committed a crime, and the suspect flees into his or her home, the police can forcefully enter the premises to prevent the suspect from escaping or destroying critical evidence. Thus, when in hot pursuit, an officer generally does not need to adhere to the general warrant requirement.
The 2021 Supreme Court case of Lange v. California has changed the landscape of hot pursuit warrantless entry, at least in misdemeanor cases. We will discuss these changes in part 2.