Police officers had a warrant for a person suspected Mr. Bell in a car theft. They knew that he had a warrant for his arrest from a traffic offense. They chose to approach him late at night outside of his home. When they did, he and Mr. Bookman fled into an adjacent home. Officers, relying on the hot pursuit exception to the warrant requirement chased them inside. When they came across Mr. Bookman lying prone on the ground, they knew he was not the suspect. They nonetheless handcuffed him and frisked him, finding a gun.
He challenged both the entry into the home under the hot-pursuit exception and the frisk under the protective sweep doctrine. The trial court denied the motion to suppress, and the Appellate Division affirmed. The Supreme Court agreed to consider the permissibility of the entry only.
Our brief explains that the hot-pursuit exception to the warrant requirement, a subset of the exigent circumstances exception, allows law enforcement to enter private spaces without a warrant when they are in hot pursuit of a fleeing suspect. But, as with any exception to the warrant requirement, the exception must remain moored to its rationale. The hot-pursuit exception exists to protect officer safety and prevent the destruction of evidence. Where a warrantless entry serves neither interest, and where police have effectively created the exigency themselves, police must obtain a warrant. The Appellate Division’s blessing of the entry provides carte blanche for police to enter private homes in pursuit of people who flee the execution of arrest warrants, no matter how minor. This will impact hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans, disproportionately on poorer people and people of color.
In this case, police faced no exigency: the eight officers on the scene could have secured the scene and waited for a search warrant. There was no risk to officer safety or that evidence would be destroyed. Given that reality, the Constitution demands that officers wait to obtain a search warrant.