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U.S. Supreme Court To Decide If Loud Music Is Enough To Enter A Home Without A Warrant

United States Supreme Court

The legal question of just how minor an offense can be for police to enter a person’s home without a warrant has been taken up by the United States Supreme Court for a decision that will affect Mainers.

Motorist Arthur Lange, a northern California man, was followed in his vehicle by a police officer because he believed that Lange had violated state traffic laws by listening to loud music and honking his horn a few times. The officer ‘entered‘ Mr. Lange’s home when he put his foot under the garage door to stop it from closing.

During the interaction that followed, the officer could smell alcohol on Mr. Lange’s breath. Mr. Lange was arrested for driving under the influence, and later convicted. He tried to suppress what happened but all courts said a warrant was not required, as Mr. Lange contended. Every California court that heard the issue said the entry was justified.

The need for a warrant to enter a person’s home is supposed to be the default under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which has been weakened over time by a Swiss Cheese of exceptions. One of them is when officers are in ‘hot pursuit’ of a suspect.

The main issue is just how minor a violation of law can be to allow a police officer to be able to invade the privacy of a person’s home without a warrant under this doctrine of ‘hot pursuit.’ The United States ‘granted certiorari’ to decide that issue after Mr. Lange appealed and is likely to have oral arguments in February next year.

Only about one per cent of cases appealed to the United States Supreme Court are ever heard at oral arguments and reach a decision by the justices. The potential good news for Mr. Lange is that most state cases - about three quarters - are overturned at the high court.

Maine’s own constitution has a Fourth Amendment equivalent - Article 1, Section 5. However, it has been rendered effectively meaningless because the Supreme Judicial Court, sitting as the Law Court, has said there is no state exclusionary rule to discourage police misconduct - at least where searches and seizures are concerned. This means exclusion of evidence for police violations is only in place because of the federal constitution. Other states give their own citizens additional protections for searches and seizures under their own constitutions - and a means of throwing out evidence when police violate those protections - but that is not the case in Maine.


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