Lange v. California, No. 20-18

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtJUSTICE KAGAN delivered the opinion of the Court.
PartiesARTHUR GREGORY LANGE, PETITIONER v. CALIFORNIA
Docket NumberNo. 20-18
Decision Date23 June 2021

ARTHUR GREGORY LANGE, PETITIONER
v.
CALIFORNIA

No. 20-18

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

OCTOBER TERM, 2020
Argued February 24, 2021
June 23, 2021


(Slip Opinion)

Syllabus

NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321, 337.

CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA, FIRST APPELLATE DIVISION

This case arises from a police officer's warrantless entry into petitioner Arthur Lange's garage. Lange drove by a California highway patrol officer while playing loud music and honking his horn. The officer began to follow Lange and soon after turned on his overhead lights to signal that Lange should pull over. Rather than stopping, Lange drove a short distance to his driveway and entered his attached garage. The officer followed Lange into the garage. He questioned Lange and, after observing signs of intoxication, put him through field sobriety tests. A later blood test showed that Lange's blood-alcohol content was three times the legal limit.

The State charged Lange with the misdemeanor of driving under the influence. Lange moved to suppress the evidence obtained after the officer entered his garage, arguing that the warrantless entry violated the Fourth Amendment. The Superior Court denied Lange's motion, and its appellate division affirmed. The California Court of Appeal also affirmed. It concluded that Lange's failure to pull over when the officer flashed his lights created probable cause to arrest Lange for the misdemeanor of failing to comply with a police signal. And it stated that Lange could not defeat an arrest begun in a public place by retreating into his home. The pursuit of a suspected misdemeanant, the court held, is always permissible under the exigent-circumstances exception to the warrant requirement. The California Supreme Court denied review.

Held: Under the Fourth Amendment, pursuit of a fleeing misdemeanor suspect does not always—that is, categorically—justify a warrantless entry into a home. Pp. 3-16.

(a) The Court's Fourth Amendment precedents counsel in favor of a

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case-by-case assessment of exigency when deciding whether a suspected misdemeanant's flight justifies a warrantless home entry. The Fourth Amendment ordinarily requires that a law enforcement officer obtain a judicial warrant before entering a home without permission. Riley v. California, 573 U. S. 373, 382. But an officer may make a warrantless entry when "the exigencies of the situation," considered in a case-specific way, create "a compelling need for official action and no time to secure a warrant." Kentucky v. King, 563 U. S. 452, 460; Missouri v. McNeely, 569 U. S. 141, 149. The Court has found that such exigencies may exist when an officer must act to prevent imminent injury, the destruction of evidence, or a suspect's escape.
The amicus contends that a suspect's flight always supplies the exigency needed to justify a warrantless home entry and that the Court endorsed such a categorical approach in United States v. Santana, 427 U. S. 38. The Court disagrees. In upholding a warrantless entry made during a "hot pursuit" of a felony suspect, the Court stated that Santana's "act of retreating into her house" could "not defeat an arrest" that had "been set in motion in a public place." Id., at 42-43. Even assuming that Santana treated fleeing-felon cases categorically, that statement still does not establish a flat rule permitting warrantless home entry whenever a police officer pursues a fleeing misdemeanant. Santana did not resolve the issue of misdemeanor pursuit; as the Court noted in a later case, "the law regarding warrantless entry in hot pursuit of a fleeing misdemeanant is not clearly established" one way or the other. Stanton v. Sims, 571 U. S. 3, 8, 10.
Misdemeanors run the gamut of seriousness, and they may be minor. States tend to apply the misdemeanor label to less violent and less dangerous crimes. The Court has held that when a minor offense (and no flight) is involved, police officers do not usually face the kind of emergency that can justify a warrantless home entry. See Welsh v. Wisconsin, 466 U. S. 740, 742-743. Add a suspect's flight and the calculus changes—but not enough to justify a categorical rule. In many cases, flight creates a need for police to act swiftly. But no evidence suggests that every case of misdemeanor flight creates such a need.
The Court's Fourth Amendment precedents thus point toward assessing case by case the exigencies arising from misdemeanants' flight. When the totality of circumstances shows an emergency—a need to act before it is possible to get a warrant—the police may act without waiting. Those circumstances include the flight itself. But pursuit of a misdemeanant does not trigger a categorical rule allowing a warrantless home entry. Pp. 3-12.
(b) The common law in place at the Constitution's founding similarly does not support a categorical rule allowing warrantless home entry whenever a misdemeanant flees. Like the Court's modern precedents,

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the common law afforded the home strong protection from government intrusion and it generally required a warrant before a government official could enter the home. There was an oft-discussed exception: An officer, according to the common-law treatises, could enter a house to pursue a felon. But in the misdemeanor context, officers had more limited authority to intrude on a fleeing suspect's home. The commentators generally agreed that the authority turned on the circumstances; none suggested a rule authorizing warrantless entry in every misdemeanor-pursuit case. In short, the common law did not have—and does not support—a categorical rule allowing warrantless home entry when a suspected misdemeanant flees. Pp. 12-16.

Vacated and remanded.

KAGAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, GORSUCH, KAVANAUGH, and BARRETT, JJ., joined, and in which THOMAS, J., joined as to all but Part II-A. KAVANAUGH, J., filed a concurring opinion. THOMAS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which KAVANAUGH, J., joined as to Part II. ROBERTS, C. J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which ALITO, J., joined.

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Opinion of the Court

NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA, FIRST APPELLATE DISTRICT

JUSTICE KAGAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Fourth Amendment ordinarily requires that police officers get a warrant before entering a home without permission. But an officer may make a warrantless entry when "the exigencies of the situation" create a compelling law enforcement need. Kentucky v. King, 563 U. S. 452, 460 (2011). The question presented here is whether the pursuit of a fleeing misdemeanor suspect always—or more legally put, categorically—qualifies as an exigent circumstance. We hold it does not. A great many misdemeanor pursuits involve exigencies allowing warrantless entry. But whether a given one does so turns on the particular facts of the case.

I

This case began when petitioner Arthur Lange drove past a California highway patrol officer in Sonoma. Lange, it is fair to say, was asking for attention: He was listening to loud music with his windows down and repeatedly honking his horn. The officer began to tail Lange, and soon afterward turned on his overhead lights to signal that Lange should pull over. By that time, though, Lange was only

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about a hundred feet (some four-seconds drive) from his home. Rather than stopping, Lange continued to his driveway and entered his attached garage. The officer followed Lange in and began questioning him. Observing signs of intoxication, the officer put Lange through field sobriety tests. Lange did not do well, and a later blood test showed that his blood-alcohol content was more than three times the legal limit.

The State charged Lange with the misdemeanor of driving under the influence of alcohol, plus a (lower-level) noise infraction. Lange moved to suppress all evidence obtained after the officer entered his garage, arguing that the warrantless entry had violated the Fourth Amendment. The State contested the motion. It contended that the officer had probable cause to arrest Lange for the misdemeanor of failing to comply with a police signal. See, e.g., Cal. Veh. Code Ann. §2800(a) (West 2015) (making it a misdemeanor to "willfully fail or refuse to comply with a lawful order, signal, or direction of a peace officer"). And it argued that the pursuit of a suspected misdemeanant always qualifies as an exigent circumstance authorizing a warrantless home entry. The Superior Court denied Lange's motion, and its appellate division affirmed.

The California Court of Appeal also affirmed, accepting the State's argument in full. 2019 WL 5654385, *1 (2019). In the court's view, Lange's "fail[ure] to immediately pull over" when the officer flashed his lights created probable cause to arrest him for a misdemeanor. Id., at *7. And a misdemeanor suspect, the court stated, could "not defeat an arrest which has been set in motion in a public place" by "retreat[ing] into" a house or other "private place." See id., at *6-*8 (internal quotation marks omitted). Rather, an "officer's 'hot pursuit' into the house to prevent the suspect from frustrating the arrest" is always permissible under the exigent-circumstances "exception to the...

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