Hot Pursuit

Fundamentals of Procedural Law by Adam J. McKee

“Hot pursuit” is an important term in criminal law, referring to an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. This doctrine allows law enforcement officers to enter private property without a warrant while chasing a fleeing suspect. The concept of hot pursuit reflects the principle that swift police action is often necessary to prevent harm to the public or the escape of a suspected criminal.

Understanding the Legal Basis for Hot Pursuit

The United States Supreme Court has outlined the conditions under which the hot pursuit doctrine applies. The Court held that for hot pursuit to justify a warrantless entry, officers must be actively pursuing a suspect from a public place into a private one. The pursuit must be immediate or continuous, and there must be a reasonable belief that the person being pursued has committed a serious crime.

Warden v. Hayden

Facts of Warden v. Hayden

Warden v. Hayden (1967) is a landmark case involving the “hot pursuit” doctrine. The case began when an armed robbery occurred in Baltimore, Maryland. The robber, later identified as Hayden, fled to his home, with the police closely pursuing him. Officers entered Hayden’s home without a warrant, searching the premises for Hayden, the weapons used in the crime, and the stolen money.

During their search, the officers found Hayden hiding and took him into custody. They also discovered evidence relevant to the crime, including weapons and clothing, which was later used in Hayden’s trial (Warden v. Hayden, 1967).

Findings of Warden v. Hayden

The U.S. Supreme Court held that the warrantless search and seizure were permissible under the Fourth Amendment, even though the evidence seized was not directly related to the crime for which Hayden was pursued. The Court decided that police had a right to enter the house under the hot pursuit doctrine, given that the suspect could have been dangerous and that any delay could have resulted in his escape or destruction of evidence (Warden v. Hayden, 1967).

The Rationale in Warden v. Hayden

In reaching its decision, the Court highlighted the importance of the exigency of the situation and the necessity of immediate action by law enforcement. The Court emphasized that “the Fourth Amendment does not require police officers to delay in the course of an investigation if to do so would gravely endanger their lives or the lives of others” (Warden v. Hayden, 1967, p. 298-299). The Court further clarified that the exigency of the situation allowed police to search for both the suspect and evidence that could be easily destroyed or hidden.

Warden v. Hayden is a significant case that helped define the parameters of the hot pursuit doctrine. The decision underscores the importance of balancing the need for effective law enforcement with the constitutional protections provided by the Fourth Amendment.

Implications of the Hot Pursuit Doctrine

The hot pursuit doctrine provides police officers with the authority to act quickly in situations where any delay could result in the escape of a suspect or a danger to public safety. It is, however, essential to remember that this authority is not unlimited. Courts carefully scrutinize each situation to ensure that the principle is not misused and the fundamental rights protected by the Fourth Amendment are upheld.

In conclusion, the doctrine of hot pursuit is a significant aspect of law enforcement. It allows police to respond promptly in high-stakes situations, while also respecting the constitutional rights of individuals. As with other exceptions to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement, it represents a careful balance between the needs of effective law enforcement and the rights of the individual.


Modification History

File Created:  08/07/2018

Last Modified:  07/15/2023

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This work is licensed under an Open Educational Resource-Quality Master Source (OER-QMS) License.

Open Education Resource--Quality Master Source License


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