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Hot Pursuit

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 impracticalranging from those requiring officers to frisk
suspects for weapons to those requiring officers to stop and search automobilesas 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 pursuit' means some sort of
a chase, but it need not be an extended hue and cry 'in and about the public streets'" (United
States v. Santana, 427 U.S. 38, 96 S. Ct. 2406, 49 L. Ed. 2d 300 [1976]). Hot pursuit also applies
when the lives of police officers or others are in danger. Thus, the Court has recognized two
specific conditions that justify warrantless searches under the rule of hot pursuit: the need to
circumvent the destruction of evidence, and the need to prevent the loss of life or serious injury.