Officer entitled to immunity for warrantless entry while in hot pursuit of misdemeanor suspect says U.S. Supreme Court.

Stanton v. Sims, No. 12-1217, __ U.S. __ (November 4, 2013).

In this U.S. Supreme Court case, the Court held an officer was entitled to qualified immunity after entering into a side-yard while in hot pursuit of a misdemeanor suspect. The court was careful not to express an opinion on whether or not the entry was constitutional or not, simply that such a question is sharply debated throughout the nation so the law was not “clearly established” for qualified immunity purposes.

Officer Stanton responded to a call for an unknown disturbance in a known gang area. Upon arrival, he observed several individuals in the area listed for the disturbance. After exiting the vehicle, he identified himself (even though already in full uniform and a marked vehicle) and ordered the individuals to stop in order to investigate. Failure to stop after an officer’s order is a California misdemeanor. Suspect Patrick did not stop and ran through a gated area (where the fence and gate blocked his view of the fleeing suspect).  Stanton made a “split-second decision” to kick open the gate; however, Sims was standing behind it and was injured. She brought suit for unreasonable search and seizure. The trial court granted Stanton’s qualified immunity summary judgment motion, but the 9th Circuit reversed. Stanton appealed and the court granted the writ of certiorari.

Part of this opinion gives the impression the U.S. Supreme Court is chastising the 9th Circuit’s analysis and opinion and provided some harsh words in its own analysis.  However, the bottom line of the opinion is that numerous courts hotly dispute whether it is constitutional for a warrantless entry while in pursuit of a misdemeanor suspect.  Without commenting on the constitutionality of such an action, the Court held that this national dispute indicates the law is not clearly established and that Officer Stanton is therefore entitled to qualified immunity.

If you would like to read this opinion click here.

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