Supreme Court to debate whether misdemeanors can be a foot in the door for warrantless home search

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    WASHINGTON – Arthur Lang was 100 feet from his driveway when a California patrol officer flipped behind his flashing lights. Instead of stopping, Lang headed to his Sonoma County home, pulled into his garage and closed the door.

    What happened in the next few seconds led to years of litigation and a case to argue in the Supreme Court on Wednesday with broad implication for police power.

    After Lang’s garage door landed on that October night in 2016, Officer Aaron Wyckert got out of his car and stuck his foot under it, sending the censor back to him.

    “Didn’t you see me behind you?” The officer asked Langay, who said he was not. As Lang stated, Weikert smelled of alcohol on his breath. A later test revealed that Lang’s blood-alcohol content was more than three times the legal limit and was charged with DUI.

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    The question at the heart of the exchange: was Weikert on constitutionally unstable ground when he entered Lang’s garage without a warrant.

    Police generally require a warrant to enter someone’s home under the 4th Amendment’s prohibition on “unreasonable searches”. But courts have allowed exceptions when an officer is believed to have committed a felony in a “hot search” of a suspect. In Lang’s case, the police can only point to his failure to stop, a misdemeanor.

    While the difference may seem academic, civil liberties groups say the case could expand police powers due to the breadth of allegations of misdemeanors. Can a police officer make a minor offense to justify a chase and search? Misdemeanor offenses can be serious, but they also include littering, jaywalking and disobeying dollar bills.

    Courts across the country have reached different answers to the question on this issue in the case. According to Lang’s attorneys, five state supreme courts have pursued a misdemeanor justifying a warrantless home entry, while three state courts and two federal appeals courts say the case is reviewed by a case-by Should be done on the basis of -case.

    “Courts are everywhere on this,” said General Counsel Larry James of the National Fraternal Order of Police. “The question is, should the US Supreme Court legislate the land.”

    In this November 5, 2020 file photo, the Supreme Court is seen in Washington.

    Questions of the Fourth Amendment have divided the Supreme Court in unusual ways, with liberal judge Stephen Breyer occasionally joining with conservative and the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Justice Neil Gorsuch last called a verdict in Vermont, allowing game wardens to peer inside the garage without making an “error”.

    Gorsuch, appointed by President Donald Trump, was appointed by both President Sonia Sotomoyor and Elena Kagan, President Barack Obama.

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    Lang’s case comes to a moment of tension in court after police sparked tension between the police and communities of color after George Floyd’s murder of a 46-year-old black man last year. This incident and others led it to racism and some riots in the summer, leading to a national discussion about racism and police use of force.

    One of those incidents was the 2020 shooting death of 26-year-old Briana Taylor, which occurred after police entered her Louisville, QA apartment during a drug investigation. A “no-knock” warrant was obtained by police, allowing them to conduct a search without notification. The city later banned the no-knock warrant.

    Some observers said that the circumstances in which a police officer may enter a home without a warrant may extend the horrific relationship, extending the circumstances.

    Harvard Law Professor Alexandra Natapoff wrote extensively on the crimes of rape, “It will not open the door, it will open the flood gates for police to enter a house.” “Everything we’ve learned from George Floyd and Black Lives Matter will be an absolutely backward reaction.”

    On the other hand, some advocates say that allowing a suspect to enter the house to avoid a possible arrest creates another problem for police. Officers may not always immediately determine whether a suspected drunk driver may commit a felony or misdemeanor, for example, a distinction that may trigger factors such as a blood-alcohol level, prior defect or a child in a car .

    If Weikert had waited to obtain a warrant, would Lang have claimed that he started drinking alcohol only after arriving home? Or could he have waited longer for the police?

    “The timing degrades the evidence,” said Alex Otte, president of Drunk Against Drunk Driving, which advocates a clear exception to the need for warrants in cases where police are looking for a vicious suspect. ” This is a true audacity, yet they must be forced to face the consequences of their potentially fatal choice. “

    The case was presented to the US Supreme Court after the California Supreme Court refused to hear it, allowing a lower court ruling that favored the police.

    Although the California state appeals court ruling created a broad warrant exception to the pursuit of misdemeanors, the state of California itself is not defending that power for police. California lawyers argue that Wickert’s actions represented a good faith effort to comply with current law in the state.

    Instead, the Supreme Court appointed a lawyer to defend the exception to the misdemeanor.

    Lawyer Amanda Rice told the court, “There is nothing fair about a criminal thwarting a legitimate public arrest by running away from home.” “This is true whether the underlying offense is to be classified as felony or misdemeanor.”

    This article originally appeared for debate in USA Today: Supreme Court when police can conduct warrantless searches

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