In its decision in Lange v. California, the United States Supreme Court ruled that “hot pursuit” of a subject does not always give police officers cause to violate Fourth Amendment protections. However, the court made it clear that the specific circumstances of this case were their basis for the decision. Therefore, police officers might have probable cause for violating the Fourth Amendment in other cases.
What Was the Story Behind Lange v. California?
Arthur Lange drove past a police officer with his windows rolled down, honking his horn, and blaring music. The police officer began following Lange. Mr. Lange ignored the blue lights and the officer’s loud commands to pull over.
The police officer followed Mr. Lange home, where Mr. Lange exited his vehicle in the driveway and entered his garage. The officer suspected Mr. Lange was intoxicated and followed him into the garage.
In the garage, the police officer questioned Mr. Lange. After observing signs of intoxication, the officer administered field sobriety tests, which Mr. Lange failed. The police officer arrested Mr. Lange and transported him to the police station. After the arrest, the police obtained a blood sample for an evidentiary chemical test. The results showed that Mr. Lange’s blood alcohol content (BAC) was three times the legal limit.
The police officer arrested Mr. Lange on a misdemeanor DUI charge.
Protection From Illegal Search and Seizure Under the Fourth Amendment
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects individuals from illegal searches and seizures. It prevents the police from excessively intruding into a citizen’s life or property. According to the Fourth Amendment, you have the right to be secure in your “person, house, papers, and effects.”
In other words, you have the right not to be subjected to unreasonable searches or seizures by the government. Furthermore, if the court issues a search warrant, the law requires probable cause to support the warrant. The warrant must also describe the place, person, or things subject to the search.
A search of your home without a warrant is generally presumed unreasonable. Therefore, the state needs to establish that the officer had exigent circumstances for the warrantless search or the search falls into one of the narrowly defined exceptions. One exception would be the search is incident to a lawful arrest.
Filing a Motion to Suppress Evidence Based on a Violation of His Fourth Amendment Rights
Mr. Lange’s attorney filed a motion to suppress evidence obtained after the police officer entered the garage. The motion argued that the police officer violated Mr. Lange’s Fourth Amendment right against warrantless searches and seizures.
The trial court and the California Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District denied the motion to suppress evidence. The Court of Appeal stated that failure to pull over immediately for the officer when he flashed his lights created probable cause for the arrest. Therefore, Mr. Lange could not avoid the arrest by going inside. The court ruled that the pursuit of a suspect for a misdemeanor charge is always permitted under the exception for exigent circumstances to the warrant requirement.
Mr. Lange appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court.
The United States Supreme Court Ruled in Favor of Mr. Lange
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court rejected the exigent circumstances argument by the lower court. They found that pursuing a fleeing misdemeanor suspect does not always give the police officer the right to enter a home without a warrant.
Instead, the Court held that cases involving the pursuit of a suspect on an alleged misdemeanor charge must be decided on a case-by-case basis. Furthermore, the seriousness of the alleged offense is an important factor when deciding whether exigent circumstances exist to override the requirement for a warrant. In other words, a minor offense did not justify ignoring the protections provided by the Fourth Amendment.
How Does the Lange Decision Impact DUI Cases in California?
The United States Supreme Court reaffirmed the protections against unreasonable actions by the police under the Fourth Amendment. In addition, it helps strengthen the protection that prevents police officers from entering private homes without a warrant merely because they are suspicious.
On the other hand, there are instances in which exigency would apply and allow the officers to ignore the warrant requirements under the Fourth Amendment. Examples of exigent circumstances might include:
- Imminent harm to others
- A threat to the police officer
- Likely destruction of evidence
- Fleeing from a scene
All of the circumstances need to be considered to determine if the situation justifies proceeding without a warrant. The court made it clear that pursuing a suspect does not always give the police officer the right to trample over the Fourth Amendment protections.
The Supreme Court has previously ruled that dissipation of alcohol in the blood is not an exigent circumstance for illegal entry into a person’s home. The offense was minor, and the person was not likely to flee.
Likewise, when the alleged crime is minor and there is no evidence that the person will flee again, the police can take their time to get a warrant. An exception is in drug cases where the person might destroy evidence.
What Should I Do if the Police Performed an Illegal Search?
Defendants who believe their civil rights were violated should contact a California DUI defense attorney. The attorney can review the case to determine whether a motion to suppress evidence should be filed with the court.
If the court rules that the police officers violated your civil rights, the court may find that the evidence obtained during the illegal search and seizure is inadmissible in court. Without that evidence, the prosecution might not be able to prove the legal elements of a drunk driving charge. Therefore, your case could be dismissed.
California DUI Penalties
Many of the drunk driving charges in California are misdemeanor offenses, unless you have several prior DUI convictions, a prior felony, you cause injuries, or there are aggravating circumstances. However, the DUI penalties for a misdemeanor DUI charge can still be severe.
For a first-offense DUI in California, the judge could sentence you to:
- Incarceration in county jail for up to six months
- Assessments and fines between $1,500 and $2,000
- Six months suspended driver’s license (the DMV could suspend it for longer if you refused a post-arrest evidentiary chemical test)
- Summary (informal) probation for three to five years
- DUI school or three to nine months
If your case involves aggravating circumstances, the judge could increase the penalties. For example, you had a BAC of .15% or higher, or you are under the age of 21 years.
The penalties for DUI convictions increase as you have more DUIs on your record. You may be required to install an ignition interlock device (IID) and attend a 30 month DUI education program. The only way to avoid jail and other penalties is to beat the DUI charges.
Defense to DUI Charges in California
You can fight DUI charges. However, the circumstances and facts of your case determine what type of defense you can use. Hiring an experienced California DUI defense lawyer is the first step.
The prosecution has the burden of proving you are guilty of the charges against you. Therefore, do not help them with their job. Talking to the police or the prosecutor without an attorney is never in your best interest. You will not talk your way out of the arrest. You will only give the state more evidence to use against you.
Instead, focus on working with a California DUI lawyer to build a defense against the drunk driving charges. Examples of defenses to charges of driving under the influence include:
- Breathalyzer errors, including improper procedure, environmental factors, health conditions, and device malfunction
- Health conditions that could cause a false BAC level or mimic intoxication, including diabetes, epilepsy, brain injuries, acid reflux, GERD, and hiatal hernia
- DUI blood test errors, including blood contamination, improper withdrawal, improper storage, and blood fermentation
- Lack of probable cause for the DUI stop or arrest
- Inaccuracy of field sobriety tests, including environmental conditions, police intimidation, lack of proper instructions, health conditions, and non-standard tests
- You were not impaired by alcohol – your BAC was under the legal limit
- Challenging the results of an evidentiary breath test based on partition ratios
- The DUI checkpoint did not comply with the legal requirements
- You were not operating the motor vehicle (you were sitting in the car or sleeping in the car)
- Rising blood alcohol because the chemical test was performed when your body was still absorbing the alcohol
There could be other defenses to your DUI charges depending on the unique facts of your case. If there is no chance of the DUI charges being dropped, an experienced DUI defense attorney can use the evidence in your favor to negotiate a plea agreement.
The plea agreement may include reduced charges and reduced sentences. An advantage of negotiating reduced charges is that you might be able to keep your driver’s license. Your insurance may not be as severely impacted. You might avoid jail. The charge might not count against you if you are arrested again for DUI.
Before pleading guilty to DUI charges, talk with a lawyer about your options so you can make the decision that is best for you.