Hot pursuit

Hot pursuit The doctrine of hot pursuit is one of the exceptions to the rule that a warrant of arrest must first be procured before an officer of thelaw can validly apprehend a person or a search warrant, in case the police officer wishes to conduct a search of his or her private premises. What is the doctrine of hot pursuit? It means that a police officer who had probable cause to believe that a crime had been committed and the person sought to be apprehended is guilty of the crime may validly pursue a person, even to areas covered by the fourth amendment (for example, dwelling place) without prior procurement of a warrant. The main principle or premise that underlies this rule is that “an act is deemed to be committed not only where the physical movements occur but also where the consequences take effect.” (Williams, 1939).

The main justification of the hot pursuit exception is reposed in the landmark case of Warden v. Hayden (387 U.S. 294 [1967]) where the warrantless entry of the police into the house of the suspect was deemed justified by the majority because the “exigencies of the situation made that course imperative” (p. 298). But a rule to follow, according to Worrall (2011), is that “the nature of the exigency defines the scope of the search.” This means that the exigency must be of so grave a nature and so compelling a reason before a search may be commenced without a warrant. This case of Warden also propounded other justifications. According to Justice Brennan, the imperatives of the Fourth Amendment “does not require police officers to delay in the course of an investigation if to do so would gravely danger their lives or the lives of others” (pp. 298-299). It was also reasonable for the police officers, according to the decision, to ensure that had control of all weapons which could be used against them or to effect an escape” (p. 299).

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Another important rule to consider is that there must be no time at all to get a warrant. If there is a reasonable period of time that the police officers can use to procure a warrant, then the most prudent course of action would simply to get the warrant and then apprehend the suspect or search his premises on the strength of the warrant of arrest or search warrant. In the case of Welsh v. Wisconsin (466 U.S. 740 [1984]) the Court held that the hot pursuit exception cannot be made to apply “because there was no immediate or continuous pursuit of the petitioner from the scene of [the] crime”.

The doctrine of hot pursuit is relevant in issues of maritime security. To quote Allen (1989), “hot pursuit will become increasingly important in the future as coastal states are compelled to adopt better technologies to patrol their adjacent waters to interdict illegal drug traffickers and protect coastal fisheries resources against exploitation and pollution damage.” Indeed, the hot pursuit doctrine is an effective principle in ensuring that our law enforcement agents remain effective enforcers of law and order while still maintaining adherence to cherished constitutional principles.


Craig Allen, Doctrine of Hot Pursuit: A Functional Interpretation Adaptable to Emerging Maritime Law Enforcement Technologies and Practices, Ocean Development and International Law, 20 (1989).

Glanville Williams, The Juridical Basis of Hot Pursuit, British Yearbook of International Law, 83 (1939).

John Worrall, Criminal Procedure: From First Contact to Appeal, 169, (4th ed, 2011).

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