Arthur Gregory Lange is an odd motherfucker. Dude got crazy fucking drunk, like 0.245% fucking drunk, got in his car, and decided to have a rock concert on the drive home. Cranked his tunes up, opened the windows for all to enjoy, and even honked his horn randomly, so he could feel like he was part of the band.
Well, in comes detective Aaron Weikert, apparently not a music lover, who thought Lange’s behavior might be a little suspect. He was right. Did I mention this dumb fuck blew a 0.245%? That’s over three times the legal limit!
Anyway, Weikert followed this idiot, eventually flipped on the blues and twos, and attempted to pull Lange over. Lange, being drunk out of his god damn mind, didn’t even fucking notice Weikert, pulled into his driveway, opened the garage door, and pulled on in, Weikert in his drive way behind him, pretty confident at this point that Lange was ten kinds of fucked up.
So as Lange went to close the garage door, Weikert tripped the garage door detector with his foot, so it wouldn’t close, and walked into the garage to confront Lange. He noticed immediately Lange’s breath smelled like he drank all the alcohol on the west coast. So he took him to a hospital, where they obtained his blood alcohol level.
At the heart of this challenge, is whether Weikert had the right to step into Lange’s garage. At the time he did, Lange was listening to music loudly, and honking his horn at literally no one. Both are minor infractions, and not necessarily cause for an officer to enter someone’s home. So Lange and his attorney, doing their level best to protect Lange from being convicted of a felony he absolutely committed (drunk driving), by making a colorful argument that the officer didn’t have any lawful reason to enter his garage. I say colorful, because let’s not forget, Weikert flashed his lights and shit at Lange well before he got to his garage, and Lange was fucking oblivious to it. So Lange essentially has to prove it was reasonable he wouldn’t notice a fucking cop on his tail with lights and siren going, and thus wasn’t fleeing arrest, which would be a felony, and thus would be cause for the officer to follow him into the garage to affect an arrest.
Lange’s attorney tried to argue officer’s should have let him close the door, and simply knocked on the front door and confronted him in that way, versus entering his garage.
Roberts, being unimpressed by this argument, responded:
Mr. Fisher, I’m trying to figure out, going back to what Justice Alito was saying, what circumstance where there is a genuine hot pursuit do you think would not justify a police officer, just on the basis of the pursuit, believing that the person was trying to hide something, trying to perhaps destroy evidence, whatever the cause, why wouldn’t that justify a — wouldn’t the nature of the pursuit itself create a sense of urgency?https://www.oyez.org/cases/2020/20-18
What I find most interesting in this, is that Lange is 100% guilty AF of what the officer suspected—that is inarguable. The officer, by any account, acted in a way I think most people would if they were a cop, and ran into this situation. But, as a libertarian, you have to worry a little about cops just walking into a part of your home without a warrant.
Lange’s attorney’s argument isn’t ridiculous though, if there was a dangerous situation, such as he was driving drunk, it ended when he parked in the garage. So the danger was over. Now the question was whether a crime was committed, and how may the cop investigate it. Basically saying, once he parked, and the immediate threat was over, it’s time to get a fucking warrant.
Justice Gorsuch offered up some rather libertarian thoughts:
Good morning, counsel.
I think my colleagues have kind of pointed out two difficulties with your argument.
First, Justice Breyer points out that different states have different rules about what a felony is and what a misdemeanor is, and it would seem odd that the Constitution would—in its meaning, would depend upon the happenstance of positive state law.
And, second, we live in a world in which everything has been criminalized. And some professors have even opined that there’s not an American alive who hasn’t committed a felony under some state law. And in a world like that, why doesn’t it make sense to retreat back to the original meaning of the Fourth Amendment, which I’m going to oversimplify but generally says that you get to go into a home without a warrant if the officer sees a violent action or something that’s likely to be—lead to imminent violence? That’s vastly oversimplifying, but why isn’t that the right approach?https://www.oyez.org/cases/2020/20-18
Justice Roberts wasn’t through questioning the limits of what officers can do. He went on to ask a philosophical question as to whether a cop who sees what they presume is a teenager drinking a beer outside with his bros, the budding alcoholic decides to skidaddle when the fuzz comes on scene, and then runs into the house before the rozzers get to him. Can the cop bust into the home to verify he is both a teen, and it was in fact alcohol he was drinking?
The heart of his argument being, how bad must the thing the person is doing be before a cop can justify warrantless entry. So he gave a very benign example of a misdemeanor being broken, an d a severe example of a cop busting down the door, hoping for the counselor to offer some sort of line where it’s OK, if they’re to argue it’s ever OK. We all know that a felony could give probable cause, but at the point the officer followed Lange, remember, all he saw was that he was rocking out, and playing his horn to the beat. Which, let’s be honest, is probably a fair sign the person is drunk, but still. Not obviously, so.
Justice Thomas was curious as to whether this “Meandering pursuit” as he called it, qualified as a “hot pursuit” under the law, which then invokes the hot pursuit rule, which would have allowed the officer to enter the home. But Counselor Rice was adamant that this still qualified as hot pursuit. When Justice Breyer also pushed her on this, she responded:
Amanda K. Rice
Hot pursuit only allows officers to enter a home, Justice Breyer, when the suspect makes the decision to bring a public encounter inside a home.
So a suspect can always avoid any intrusion into a home by deciding not to flee inside, particularly in these sorts of silly cases.
I think, as Chief Justice Roberts suggested, if the suspect nevertheless decides to flee into a home, those might be the very cases where something worse is actually afoot.https://www.oyez.org/cases/2020/20-18
Curiously, she’s arguing Lange chose to flee, even if it was at a snail’s pace. But that assumes he knew the cop was there and chose not to stop (you’ll occasionally hear that referred to as mens rea, knowing you’re doing something wrong, or your state of mind), when it seems he was fucking oblivious because he was hammered like a cheap prostitute.
In a unanimous decision, SCOTUS ruled for Lange. Pursuit of a fleeing misdemeanor suspect doesn’t create exigent circumstances that allow an officer to enter someone’s home without a warrant.
Hear oral arguments and read about the case here.