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Institute for Justice Asks Supreme Court to Reject Dangerous “Misdemeanor Pursuit” Doctrine and Secure Our Constitutional Rights

Current ruling violates the Fourth Amendment by allowing police to barge into homes without a warrant to pursue anyone suspected of a misdemeanor.

Arlington, Virginia—In America, our homes are supposed to be our castles. But that security is in doubt. In California v. Lange, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide if the Fourth Amendment allows police to enter people’s homes without a warrant whenever an officer is pursuing anyone they think has committed any jailable misdemeanor. The Institute for Justice (IJ) submitted a friend-of-the-court brief asking the Court to reject that approach as contrary to the fundamental constitutional command that Americans should be safe and secure in their persons and property.

The Fourth Amendment forbids government from conducting “unreasonable” searches and seizures. But how is a court to decide what is or is not “reasonable”? Here, the California Court of Appeals held that police could enter Arthur Lange’s home late at night without a warrant just because the officer believed Lange had been honking his horn and playing music too loudly while driving. In that court’s view, it is always reasonable for officers who are pursuing someone for a jailable offense to enter that person’s home—no matter how harmless the offense or how much time they have to get a warrant.

That cannot be right.

The Fourth Amendment starts by declaring “the right of the people to be secure,” and history makes clear that the Amendment was designed to protect us from threats to our persons and property. It is this right—the right to be secure from government officers’ unchecked power to search and seize—that should serve as the Court’s compass when evaluating the reasonableness of police conduct. In the past, the Court has allowed police to enter homes without a warrant (or consent) only when the facts show a dangerous situation requiring immediate action. The Court should do the same here and reject the lower court’s fact-free approach that would weaken all Americans’ right to be secure in their homes.

In October, the Court agreed to hear the case.

“The Fourth Amendment protects our right to be secure in our property, which means both safe and free from fear that the police will enter without warning or authorization,” said Joshua Windham, IJ attorney and lead author of IJ’s brief in Lange. “A rule that allows police to burst into your home whenever they think they saw you commit a harmless offense turns that right on its head. We call on the Court to correct the lower court’s error and clarify that only true emergencies rooted in actual facts can justify warrantless home entries.”

“The Founders wrote the Fourth Amendment to make us secure in our persons and property,” explained IJ Senior Attorney Robert Frommer, who heads up IJ’s Fourth Amendment work.  “But the lower court’s decision treats our security as little more than a speed bump for law enforcement.”

“The Supreme Court should reverse this terrible decision and instruct lower courts that their top priority is to secure peoples’ constitutional rights, not merely to rubberstamp whatever actions the government has taken in the name of convenience for law enforcement.” said Scott Bullock, president and general counsel for the Institute for Justice.

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[NOTE:        To arrange interviews on this subject, journalists may call John Kramer, IJ’s vice president for communications, at (703) 682-9323 ext. 205.]

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