The Supreme Court ruled that the arrest of a man from Sonoma County was illegal. State appeals court upheld his conviction anyway


Six months ago, a North Bay man who was chased into his garage by police won a rare defense victory in the United States Supreme Court, which limited officers’ power to enter the house of a suspect without warrant.

This meant that entering Arthur Lange’s garage was illegal – but because the officer couldn’t know ahead of time, Lange’s conviction for impaired driving was valid, a ruling ruled on Monday. state appeals court.

The San Francisco First District Court of Appeals decision was the latest in a long line of state and federal decisions to find exceptions to the “exclusionary rule,” which prohibits prosecutors from using evidence obtained. during illegal searches. The United States Supreme Court established this rule in a 1961 case, but the court and lower courts have significantly limited its impact since then, allowing evidence when police acted illegally but in “good faith” on the basis. of their reasonable understanding of the law.

Lange, a retired real estate agent, was driving home on National Highway 12 in an unincorporated area of ​​eastern Sonoma County one evening in October 2016, when an officer with the California Highway Patrol called him heard honking and decided to follow him. The officer, however, did not turn on his light or siren until Lange entered a residential area, stopped outside his house, and pressed a button to open his garage door.

After Lange entered his garage, the officer came out, put his foot under the door to keep it from closing, and entered the garage, where he questioned Lange and smelled the smell of alcohol in his breath. Lange later pleaded indisputably for the offense of impaired driving and was sentenced to 30 days in prison.

State courts upheld his conviction, but the Supreme Court took over the Lange case and set new standards for officers’ authority to chase fleeing suspects into their homes. While police “chasing” a felony suspect can enter a home without a warrant, the court ruled 7-2 that when the alleged felony is only a misdemeanor, a relatively minor offense carries a penalty of. county jail, the prosecution must stop at the suspect’s door unless there is a real emergency.

When the case returned to California courts, Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office did not claim there had been an emergency warranting entry, but argued that the conviction should stand because the CHP officer had reasonably believed he was acting legally, based on past cases. allowing the prosecution of crime suspects in their homes. The court of appeal gave its consent.

The goal of the exclusionary rule – to discourage illegal searches – is not served by prohibiting evidence obtained by an officer who acted in “objective good faith,” Judge Teri Jackson wrote. in the 3-0 decision. Until the recent Supreme Court ruling in the Lange case, she writes, police could reasonably have relied on rulings such as one made in 1989 by another California appeals court that a wanted suspect for misconduct in public cannot avoid arrest or search “by fleeing to a private place.”

Quoting the United States Supreme Court in a 2011 case, Jackson said, “A police officer who acts under a binding judicial precedent is by no means guilty.

Lange’s attorney, Peter Goodman, has said he will appeal.

“For the past five plus years, Mr. Lange has fought to protect his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures of his home,” Goodman said. “The Attorney General’s attempt to deny him the fruits of his victory in the United States Supreme Court will be fought with the same objective. “

Bob Egelko is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: Twitter: @BobEgelko

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