The Ohio Supreme Court has acknowledged that officers can chase a suspect into a home if they are in “hot pursuit.” But the key question is: When is an officer in hot pursuit?
In this case, a driver parked in his driveway ran into his house when the officer started stepping out of his car. The court found that this was not “hot pursuit” and that the officer should have gotten a warrant before forcing his way into the home. As a result, the 0.189 BAC result and other evidence obtained after the unconstitutional entry were excluded from evidence.
OVI Suspect Runs into His House When Officer Approaches
Around 1:00 AM, an officer observed a vehicle going 50 mph in a 25 mph zone on a snowy road. The officer was waiting for the car to pass so that he could pull him over. But instead of passing the squad car, the driver slowed down and turned into a driveway a few houses down from the officer’s car.
The officer pulled into the driveway behind the car. As the officer was about to get out, the driver got out of his vehicle, went to the passenger side and took out what looked like a guitar case and some other items and started walking towards the police car.
The officer said he wanted to talk to the driver because he had been speeding. The driver said ok “let me put my stuff by the steps so they are not on the snow.” When he said, the officer noticed that the driver had slurred speech and appeared to be under the influence.
The officer ran the driver’s plate and as he got out of the car, the driver ran up the steps to the house and locked the door behind him. The officer knocked on the door several times and told him to open the door.
The driver said “I don’t have to open the door for you and you can go and get a warrant.” The officer called for backup. He told the driver that if he did not open the door, the officer would force it open. He continued to refuse.
The officer said he would count from 5 to 1 and then he would force the door in. He started “5, 4 . . .” and when he got to 3 it looked like the driver had barricaded the door with his body. The officer then forced the door open and found the driver behind the door.
As the officers were arresting the driver, they saw a woman inside. When they asked why she didn’t open the door, she said the driver told her not to.
The driver then performed and failed field sobriety tests at the station and blew a 0.189 BAC – more than twice the legal limit of .08.
The driver was charged with OVI, OVI per se (having a blood alcohol level over the limit), and speeding.
“Hot Pursuit” Exception to the Warrant Requirement in OVI Arrests
The police argued that they were in “hot pursuit” of the driver and were within their right to force the door open to arrest him.
On the other hand, the driver’s attorney argued that the “exigent circumstances” or “hot pursuit” exception to the warrant requirement here did not apply and the forced entry was unconstitutional.
The Fourth Amendment
The Fourth Amendment guarantees the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Unless you give permission or the “exigent circumstances” exception applies, the police must get a warrant to enter or search a home. If the police enter a home without a warrant in violation of the Fourth Amendment, any evidence collected is inadmissible in court.
What is “Hot Pursuit”?
The “hot pursuit” exception allows for situation where a suspect is about to escape or destroy evidence. Under this exception, police can enter a home to arrest someone only when they are in “hot pursuit” of a fleeing felon. The idea is that it is unrealistic to expect the police to stop in the middle of a chase to get an arrest warrant. If they delay, the fleeing suspect would escape and make the warrant useless.
Whether the “Hot Pursuit” Exception Applies in an OVI Arrest Depends on the Circumstances
The Ohio Supreme Court has extended the “hot pursuit” exception to a warrantless entry of the home of a suspect who committed a misdemeanor traffic offense. Middletown v. Flinchum, 95 Ohio St.3d 43, 765 N.E.2d 330 (2002).
In Flinchum, officers observed a driver driving erratically. He spun his car tires when the traffic light turned to green. He then stopped and rapidly sped up his car, causing it to fishtail when it made a right turn. Officers twice tried to approach the car and he fled both times.
When officers found him standing on the driver’s side of his parked car, he ran. One officer pursued him on foot yelling “Stop” “Police!” But he kept running toward his house and then into his house. The officer followed him in the house and arrested him. He was charged with reckless operation and DUI.
The Ohio Supreme Court found that the officer was permitted to chase him into the house. “When officers, having identified themselves, are in hot pursuit of a suspect who flees to a house in order to avoid arrest, the police may enter without a warrant, regardless of whether the offense for which the suspect is being arrested is a misdemeanor.” Flinchum at syllabus.
Here, however, the case was different. The police officer saw the driver’s car speeding shortly before he pulled into the driveway. The driver turned into his driveway before the officer had a chance to even turn around and follow him. He had already parked before the officer identified himself and said why he wanted to talk.
The driver walked toward the car to talk to the officer, who said he wanted to talk because he had been speeding. When the officer was done doing a plates check, he stepped out and only then did the driver run into the house and lock the door.
Even if the court considered the officer’s statement that he wanted to “talk” to be a “stop,” the “pursuit” did not begin until the officer exited his vehicle to approach the driver. The “pursuit” ended almost as soon as it began, because the driver immediately ran up the door steps and went inside his home.
This was not aggressive fleeing rom police as in Flinchu. Thus, the court found that the circumstances in this case did not add up to, and did not constitute, a pursuit. “Nor can any recitation of the chronology add up to ‘hot.'” Plus, he was already parked in his driveway with the cruiser blocking his car – so there was no danger to the public that he would drive away.
He had been physically identified, his license run, and his home located.
Other examples where courts found the “hot pursuit” exception did NOT apply include:
- Cleveland v. Lynch, 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 98201, 2012-Ohio-5740. Officers’ entry into the the driver’s home following his involvement in a single-car accident was not justified under the “hot
pursuit” exception because the officers were not in hot pursuit.
- State v. Cross, 4th Dist. Washington No. 12CA54, 2014-Ohio-1046. The court did not find “hot pursuit” where the police officer never activated his cruiser’s lights or sirens alerting the appellant of police presence before the appellant parked his vehicle in his driveway and went inside the garage.
- Letsche, 4th Dist. Ross No. 02CA2693, 2003-Ohio-6942. “Hot pursuit” exception did not apply because there was no pursuit in public place prior to the OVI suspect entering his own home.
0.189 BAC Result Thrown Out Due to Warrantless Entry
The officer here said the immediate entry was to have him perform a field sobriety test and a measurement of his blood alcohol content. It is true that timely obtaining an OVI suspect’s BAC level is important because it blood alcohol evidence dissipates over time. A delay caused by obtaining a warrant could affect the BAC evidence for OVI.
But regardless, the Fourth Amendment trumps. “Balancing the people’s guaranteed right to dwell in reasonable security and freedom from intrusion with the police officers’ need for acting swiftly to obtain and preserve evidence,” the court concluded that the city did not have compelling exigent circumstances justifying police officers intruding into a private home to arrest an OVI suspect for the purposes of obtaining evidence of intoxication.
What’s more, in order to justify a warrantless entry, there must be probable cause to arrest. But here, the officer only saw him speeding and heard slurred speech. “The lack of a well-supported showing of probable cause makes the intrusion in this case even less justifiable.”