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Supreme Court Dials Back Police Entry Without Warrant

Dissenters say the ruling gives 'no guidance at all'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 23, 2021 2:14 PM CDT

(Newser) – Adding to the country's ongoing discussion of the extent of police powers, the Supreme Court on Wednesday put limits on when police officers pursuing a fleeing suspect can enter a home without a warrant. The high court ruled that when officers are pursuing someone suspected of a misdemeanor, a less serious crime, they cannot always enter a home without a warrant if a suspect enters, per the AP. The court had previously given police greater freedom to enter homes in cases involving more serious crimes. In a 1976 case, the justices said that police in “hot pursuit” of a suspect believed to have committed a felony can enter a home without a warrant. The case the justices decided Wednesday is important both to law enforcement and to groups concerned about privacy.

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But it doesn't give police a bright line for when they can and cannot enter a home to pursue someone suspected of committing a misdemeanor. "The flight of a suspected misdemeanant does not always justify a warrantless entry into a home. An officer must consider all the circumstances in a pursuit case to determine whether there is a law enforcement emergency. On many occasions, the officer will have good reason to enter—to prevent imminent harms of violence, destruction of evidence, or escape from the home. But when the officer has time to get a warrant, he must do so—even though the misdemeanant fled," Justice Elena Kagan wrote in a majority opinion for seven members of the court that included both liberals and conservatives. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito said that, in their view, a suspect's choice to flee alone should give police the ability to pursue that person into a home. They suggested the majority's opinion leaves too much for officers in the field to consider in the midst of a chase, providing “no guidance at all.”

(Read more Scotus stories.)

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