Thursday, February 21, 2013

Police may not detain suspect away from search

The U.S. Supreme Court has long held that when police execute a search warrant, they may detain anyone found on the premises while the search is conducted. The Fourth Amendment generally requires police to strongly suspect an individual has committed a crime before the person can be detained.

However, in Michigan v. Summers, 452 U.S. 692 (1981)the court ruled police could detain people without suspicion during a search to keep them from doing harm to officers, keep them from fleeing and allowing them  to permit entry without damage to property.

This week the high court ruled in  Bailey v. U.S., 11-770 that police may not detain someone who is away from their home while a search of their home is being conducted.

According to NPR, the case stemmed from an informant's tip telling police about a handgun and drugs in a basement apartment on Long Island. As one group of policemen was preparing to execute a search warrant, other officers conducting surveillance outside the residence saw two men leave.

They followed the men for about a mile and then pulled them over, searched them, found no drugs or weapons, but did find keys to the apartment. The officers then handcuffed the men and brought them back to the apartment. One of the men, Chunon Bailey, was then convicted, using, among other things, statements he made at the time he was stopped by police, and the keys, as evidence showing that he lived at the apartment.

A federal appeals court upheld the detention, but the Supreme Court ruled it was illegal, and sent the case back to the lower courts, casting doubt on whether the conviction will survive.

Writing for the six-justice majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said none of the concerns present in the Summers case justified Bailey's detention. "The categorical authority to detain incident to the execution of a search warrant must be limited to the immediate vicinity of the premises to be searched," he said. To do otherwise gives the police too much discretion, Kennedy said, according to the Associated Press.

The court said that once an occupant has left the "immediate vicinity" of the premises, he cannot be detained unless police have probable cause for an arrest, or possibly, reasonable suspicion that would justify a quick stop and questioning of the individual, reported NPR.

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