U.S. Supreme Court Ruling: Police Cannot Detain Suspects Not Within The Immediate Vicinity Of Premises Subject To A Search Warrant

In February, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a milestone opinion in the case of Bailey v. United States holding that police may not follow and detain a suspect while awaiting the issuance of a search warrant, even if the individual is observed leaving the premises the police intend to search.

In Bailey, New York police officers received information from a confidential informant alleging that he had observed a gun in an apartment where he had purchased drugs. Based upon this tip, the officers obtained a warrant for the apartment and began preparing to execute the search. While the search team was preparing, two detectives at the scene observed the defendant, Chunon Bailey, leave the gated area above the apartment and drive away in a car. The detectives followed the vehicle and stopped it.

The detectives performed a pat-down of Bailey, finding keys belonging to the apartment. Bailey initially admitted to residing at the apartment but later denied it when he was advised of the search. The detectives took Bailey back to the apartment where the search had already uncovered a firearm and drugs. Bailey was charged with three federal felonies for possession of the drugs and firearm.

The District Court denied Bailey’s motion to suppress the apartment keys and the statements he had made to the detectives, holding that Bailey’s detention was justified under Michigan v. Summers (1981).

In Summers, the Supreme Court established a rule allowing police officers executing a search warrant “to detain the occupants of the premises while a proper search is conducted,” even if there is no particular suspicion that the detainee is involved in criminal activity or poses a danger to the officers. The Summers decision recognized three interests that justify detention of occupants of premises subject to a search warrant: (1) officer safety; (2) facilitation of the completion of the search; and (3) preventing flight of the suspect.

Bailey’s case proceeded to jury trial where he was found guilty on all charges. On appeal, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s denial of the suppression motion based on Summers.

The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve a conflict between the Federal Courts of Appeals regarding the application of Summers to cases involving detention of suspects beyond the immediate vicinity of premises covered by a search warrant. Writing for a 6-3 majority, Justice Kennedy authored the Bailey decision, holding that none of the three interests identified in Summers applied with the same force to the detention of Bailey. The Court opined that the detention of a current occupant of premises to be searched “represents only an incremental intrusion on personal liberty when the search of a home has been authorized by a valid warrant” whereas the detention of an individual outside the immediate vicinity of the premises to be searched constitutes an additional level of intrusiveness.

Accordingly, limiting the Summers rule to the “area where an occupant pant poses a real threat to the safe and efficient execution of a search warrant ensures that the scope of the detention incident to a search is confined to its underlying justification.”
The Court concluded that, because Bailey was stopped at a point beyond “any reasonable understanding of immediate vicinity” the detention was unconstitutional unless supported by other reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded the case to the Second Circuit to determine whether such reasonable suspicion existed.

The criminal defense attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience defending the Constitutional rights of individuals that have been charged with a crime. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.