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Notable DUI case tests warrantless search on home property

We note at the outset of today’s blog post that the following story occurs in a state outside California.

Having said that, though, we additionally stress that the legal question it poses and its accompanying material facts command wide relevance all across the country. We believe our readers might reasonably be interested in the details, given that a similar tale could easily unfold at any time throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and across Alameda County.

The story unfolded with some drama and in a hurry last year on a May evening in a small town in Colorado, when a police officer followed a motorist to her home. Owing to an alleged belief that the woman had been driving while inebriated, the cop questioned her. And when she sought to end the encounter by entering her house, he stepped into her garage and physically detained her. Ultimately, she was charged with drunk driving.

That exchange has subsequently yielded headaches for that officer, his police department and town officials, owing to a federal lawsuit the woman recently filed alleging a violation of her civil rights (and after prosecutors dismissed the charges against her).

Specifically, the plaintiff contends that, because she was on private property when the exchange occurred, the officer was subject to certain constraints in his interactions with her. Namely, he needed a search warrant to detain her and – as he ultimately did – subject her to field sobriety testing and a blood draw. Her complaint charges that his failure to obtain a magistrate’s permission to enter her home violated her constitutional right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment.

The case is ongoing.

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