Courts in Florida and around the country have held that police officers may enter homes and other premises without a search warrant if they have exigent circumstances. This exception to the Fourth Amendment ensures that police can respond to calls for help, stop crimes that are in progress, and prevent crucial evidence from being destroyed, and it also allows police officers to act without a search warrant when they are in hot pursuit of a suspect. However, the courts do not take the violation of constitutional rights lightly, and police officers who enter properties without a warrant can expect their actions to be scrutinized by judges to determine just how exigent their circumstances really were.
These issues were raised in a case involving a suspected drunk driver who was followed into his home and arrested by a California Highway Patrol officer. The suspect said that he did not see the officer’s lights and was not attempting to flee, but the pursuit was ruled legal and the man was convicted. The California Court of Appeal upheld the man’s conviction and held that police officers can pursue individuals even if they are suspected of committing misdemeanors, but that ruling has since been overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court weighs in
Justice Elena Kagan wrote the majority opinion and made clear that the nation’s highest court takes entering a person’s home without a warrant very seriously. She also pointed out that the rights protected by the Fourth Amendment originally came from English criminal law and date back to the 18th century. Justice Kagan wrote that police officers should respect the sanctity of private residences and consider all of the circumstances before acting without a warrant.
The public good
The Supreme Court ruling is important because it will lead to more rigorous police procedures across the country. People understand that rights protected by the U.S. Constitution must sometimes be set aside for the public good, but they expect the courts to hold law enforcement accountable when police officers go too far.