Officer's actions justified in following teenager into house after assault

Citation: United States v. Schmidt, 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 04-2724 (2005)

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has jurisdiction over Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

A Rosebud Sioux tribal officer was on patrol in the early morning hours when he spotted four cars he believed were speeding. When the officer began to follow the vehicles, two of them passed the others and sped off. Consequently, the officer followed the two remaining cars until they pulled into the driveway of a house that Schmidt shared with his grandmother.

While Schmidt and two other teenagers got out of their vehicle and stood in the front yard, the other two teenagers stayed in their car. The officer then approached Schmidt, and during the ensuing conversation, during which Schmidt asserted that the officer had no right to be on his property, the officer determined that Schmidt was intoxicated, so he attempted to arrest him for underage drinking. However, as the officer was reaching for his handcuffs, Schmidt kicked him in the knee and ran into the house.

After composing himself, the officer turned to the other teenagers and arrested them for curfew violations. While he was doing so, Schmidt exited his house and, while standing on the front porch, loudly exclaimed that the officer had no right to be on his property. Consequently, the officer approached Schmidt, and when Schmidt ran back inside the house and locked the door, the officer attempted to gain access. After receiving no response from Schmidt or Schmidt's grandmother, he kicked the door down and followed Schmidt inside. During the ensuing struggle, which involved Schmidt jumping up and down on his bed, screaming at the top of his lungs and throwing pillows at the officer, Schmidt continued to assault the officer and avoid being detained. Finally, Schmidt succeeded in escaping after he incapacitated the officer by placing all of his weight onto the officer's injured knee. Schmidt was not arrested until weeks later.

Schmidt was eventually charged with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, and he asked the court to suppress all of the evidence that was gained after the officer entered his house, arguing that the officer's warrantless entry violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The lower court agreed to suppress the evidence, and the government appealed.

Decision: Reversed.

The officer was permitted to enter Schmidt's house for the purpose of arresting him, so the evidence did not need to be suppressed.

Normally, the Fourth Amendment required that officers obtain a warrant before entering a private residence; however, there were a number of exceptions to this warrant requirement. Under one exception, an officer could enter a house if he or she was in "hot pursuit" of a person whom the officer had probable cause to arrest. To determine whether the "hot pursuit" exception applied, the court looked to the seriousness of the underlying offense, as well as to whether the officer demonstrated an "immediate or continuous pursuit [of the suspect] from the scene of the [the] crime."

Here, the underlying offense was assault with a dangerous weapon (shoe/foot), which was serious enough to justify hot pursuit; however, the government still had to show "immediate or continuous pursuit." The lower court concluded that the officer had not met this requirement, noting that after Schmidt assaulted the officer and ran into the house, the officer stopped and turned his attention to the other teenagers, thereby discontinuing his pursuit of Schmidt.

While the appeals court agreed that the officer's pause in his pursuit of Schmidt could have disqualified him from asserting the "hot pursuit" theory, the court determined that Schmidt's act of exiting the house to yell at the officer reestablished pursuit. When Schmidt then ran back into the house as the officer was pursuing him to arrest him, the officer was allowed to follow him inside for the purpose of completing the arrest. In this way, the evidence discovered after the officer entered the home should not have been suppressed.

Editor's Case Note: In justifying the officer's pursuit of Schmidt into the house, the appeals court stated: "Apparently, Mr. Schmidt thought that the enforcement of the criminal laws resembles a children's game of tag where one is 'safe' if one reaches 'home' before being tagged by an officer. But [Supreme Court precedent] instructs that our criminal laws do not play such games."


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