Case Commentary: Lange v. California

“Probable cause” is a legal term that basically means that a police officer has either: a pretty good reason to believe that a crime may have been committed that requires an arrest, or knowledge that a crime was committed because there is evidence, which requires “search,” or investigation. A police officer must prove this “probable cause” (why he believes strongly that a crime has been committed, or present evidence of the crime), in order for a court to grant him or her a warrant. If a police officer can show probable cause, then in the former case, he can receive an arrest warrant and arrest the person whom he or she believes committed a crime, or in the latter situation, he can receive a search warrant, to search the evidence of the crime. However, there are what is called “exigent circumstances” aka crazy and unpredictable circumstances, that allow a police officer with probable cause to arrest someone or search something without a warrant. In the case currently in front of the Supreme Court, Lange v. California, the court is asked to determine whether a police officer who has probable cause that someone committed a misdemeanor (low level crime), can enter a garage without a search warrant? In other words, is entering a home because the officer has probable cause that the person who lives there committed a low level crime, considered one of those crazy circumstances that allows a police officer to search someone or something, without a warrant?
Specifically, a California Highway Patrol officer saw Arthur Gregory Lange in his parked car, playing music loudly and honking his horn even though no other vehicles were nearby. The officer, thinking this was odd, followed Lange for several blocks. Eventually, the officer turned his lights on and Lange did not stop. Lange tuned into a driveway and drove into a garage. The officer interrupted the closing garage door and following Lange in the garage. Lange was then charged with two Vehicle Code misdemeanor and an infraction. Lange argued at court that officer followed him into the garage without a warrant and this is not one of those unpredictable crazy circumstances where a warrantless search would be allowed. The officer obviously disagrees. He says that this was one of those crazy circumstances. What do you think? For reference, entering someone’s apartment without a warrant because the officer smelled marijuana was an exigent circumstance. Also, warrantless entry was allowed when it was necessary to render aid to an injured person.

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