In most cases, if the police want to search your residence for drugs, guns or other evidence of criminal activity, they need consent from the owner or someone with authorization or a search warrant. However, there are some exceptions. One such exception is the hot pursuit doctrine. The hot pursuit doctrine involves cases that fall into a subset of exigent circumstances cases. Exigent circumstances generally include emergency situations where the police have a right to conduct a search or seizure and do not have time to get consent or a search warrant. For example, if the police were patrolling an area and heard gunshots and screaming inside a house, they would likely have the right to enter the home immediately without having to take the time to try to get consent or a search warrant.
The hot pursuit doctrine involves a situation where the police are chasing a suspect who they have reason to believe committed a crime and the suspect runs into an area that the police would normally need consent or a search warrant to enter. However, due to the exigency of the chase, the police are allowed to enter the property to continue chasing the suspect.
While this does allow the police to enter properties without the usual need for consent or a search warrant in some situations, its applicability is limited. The greatest protection people have under the Fourth Amendment is in their homes. As a result, the law does not allow police to disregard the search warrant requirement in every case where they are chasing a suspect. The hot pursuit doctrine is normally reserved for situations where the police are chasing someone who presumably committed a felony crime. If the police are going to be allowed to just run onto or into someone’s property, they need to be chasing someone who allegedly committed a more serious crime. The less serious the crime the suspect is presumed to have committed, the less likely the police will be allowed to circumvent the search warrant requirement.
In a recent case in Jacksonville, Florida, the police entered a person’s home without consent and without a search warrant based on an allegation that the suspect was smoking a marijuana cigarette outside. When the police confronted the individual, he went inside his home. The police chased him inside and searched the home. They found a gun which resulted in a more serious felony charge. Ultimately, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the police illegally entered the defendant’s home. The police cannot avoid the search warrant requirement and barge into a person’s home based on the suspicion that the suspect committed such a nonviolent misdemeanor as possession of marijuana. It is ridiculous that the police would even think the sanctity of a person’s home could be disregarded based on a marijuana cigarette.
In any case, it seems clear that the police cannot use the hot pursuit doctrine to enter a person’s home or other private property when they are chasing a suspect for a nonviolent misdemeanor crime. Of course, that leaves open the possibility that the police could use the hot pursuit doctrine to chase a person into a residence in other situations. For instance, they likely can if a felony is involved although there is probably a good argument against it if it is a nonviolent felony. The police may be able to chase a person into a residence if the case involves a violent misdemeanor, such as a domestic battery. The police may be able to chase a person into a residence if the case involves a nonviolent misdemeanor, but there is evidence the suspect is a danger to himself or others or likely to destroy evidence. Ultimately, the legality of the hot pursuit doctrine will depend on the facts of each case. However, if the case simply involves a person ostensibly committing a nonviolent misdemeanor with no other aggravating factors, the hot pursuit doctrine likely will not be applicable.