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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > March 2013 > State v. Lam, Second District Court of Appeals (Champaign, Clark, Darke, Greene, Miami, and Montgome

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State v. Lam, Second District Court of Appeals (Champaign, Clark, Darke, Greene, Miami, and Montgomery counties), Feb. 15, 2013

Question: Can a peace officer make a warrantless entry into a home during pursuit of a fleeing suspect?
Quick Answer: Yes, for any crime, as long as the pursuit begins in a public place.

Facts: While on patrol, two police officers spotted a gold Oldsmobile Intrigue they believed was involved in a police car chase the week before. The officers were familiar with the car’s driver, Jeffrey Lam, because he and his brother Tim had a history with the local police department. They thought Jeffrey may again give chase, so they followed him until he parked his car at his home and turned off the engine. The officers then turned on their emergency lights, at which point Jeffrey got out of the car and began to flee the scene. The officers chased Jeffrey on foot through the neighborhood and saw him make his way back inside his home. The officers also saw Jeffrey’s brother Tim on the front porch. Tim retreated inside the home and shut the door. The officers tried to kick in the door. They then ordered the occupants to open it, but neither effort succeeded. The officers went back to their patrol car for a battering ram and forced entry. In the meantime, backup had arrived.
Once inside the home, officers heard a toilet flushing and movement on the second floor. The officers began performing a protective sweep and found Tim Lam and another person upstairs. During the sweep, various drugs were seen in plain view. Tim Lam was arrested on drug charges, and during a search incident to arrest, officers found more drugs on Tim Lam’s person. He moved to suppress the evidence based on the warrantless entry into the home.
Why this case is important: Although hesitant to do so, the court held that the officers’ entry into the home didn’t violate the Fourth Amendment, under the exigent circumstances exception. It’s a hard and fast rule that law enforcement must obtain a warrant before entering and searching a home, but a common exception to this rule is exigent circumstances. Peace officers often respond to the exigencies of a person needing immediate aid or of the destruction of evidence, but hot pursuit is another exigency that would justify warrantless entry into a home. A suspect may not avoid an otherwise lawful arrest by fleeing from a public place to a private one despite the Fourth Amendment’s protections of a home. And the Ohio Supreme Court has determined that any person in Ohio who flees from arrest may be immediately pursued inside a home without a warrant, no matter the crime that was committed.
Also, once inside the home, the officers were justified in performing a protective sweep because they heard movement upstairs. During that sweep, they saw drugs in plain view, so these were fair game to collect as evidence.
Keep in mind: If you have a suspect fleeing from arrest, even on a non-jailable offense such as a minor misdemeanor, Fourth Amendment case law permits you to pursue that person from a public place to a private one, including inside a home. However, the pursuit into the home must be immediate and continuous; you can’t stop pursuit and wait for backup to arrive before entering the home. Also, because some courts apply this exception with extreme hesitation for misdemeanor offenses, it is advisable to use this exception in extremely limited circumstances. If you can secure the home and go obtain a warrant without any real concern for safety or destruction of evidence, that is best practice.
Visit the Ohio Supreme Court’s website to view the entire opinion.