Hot Pursuit

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps
 
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A doctrine that provides that the police may enter the premises where they suspect a crime has been committed without a warrant when delay would endanger their lives or the lives of others and lead to the escape of the alleged perpetrator; also sometimes called fresh pursuit.

Countless crime dramas have portrayed police officers in a high-speed chase barking into their radio that they are "in hot pursuit" of a suspect. This popular image says little about the legal rule of hot pursuit. As established by the U.S. Supreme Court, the rule is an important exception to the freedoms guaranteed by the FOURTH AMENDMENT. That constitutional provision safeguards citizens against excessive police intrusion into their life and property. Its foremost protection is the SEARCH WARRANT, which must be obtained from a judge or magistrate before the police can conduct most searches. Under special circumstances, the rule of hot pursuit gives the police extra powers to enter private property and conduct a search without a warrant. The rule recognizes practical limitations on Fourth Amendment rights in light of the realities of police work, especially in emergencies, but it stops far short of giving the police complete freedom to conduct warrantless searches.

As a powerful deterrent to the abuse of power, the Fourth Amendment is designed to prevent the rise of a police state. The requirement that police officers obtain search warrants prevents ARBITRARY violations of freedom, applying equally to federal and state authority. Yet this freedom is not absolute. In the twentieth century, the Supreme Court has carved out a few exceptions to its protections. These exceptions exist under "exigent circumstances": the emergency like demands of specifically defined situations that call for immediate response by the police, who must have PROBABLE CAUSE to conduct a search. Generally, these are circumstances under which obtaining a search warrant would be impractical?ranging from those requiring officers to frisk suspects for weapons to those requiring officers to stop and search automobiles?as well as when suspects explicitly consent or imply consent to a search.

Hot pursuit is one such exigent circumstance. It usually applies when the police are pursuing a suspected felon into private premises or have probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed on private premises. The Supreme Court stated that "'hot...

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