Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Detention Incident to Search Warrant Doesn't Stretch a Mile

The Supreme Court ruled today in Bailey v. United States that officers can't detain a suspect incident to the execution of a search warrant a mile away from the property searched.  The ruling underscores the geographic limit to the detention authority in Michigan v. Summers, allowing a detention incident to the execution of a search warrant even without probable cause.  (Summers is a narrow exception to the general probable cause requirement under the Fourth Amendment.) The case says that the Summers rule is "limited to the immidate vicinity of the premises to be searched." 

While the ruling favors Bailey and a geographically-bound reading of the Summers exception, the evidence that Bailey sought to exclude may ultimately make its way into the case on a different rationale.  In short, this ruling ultimately might not be a game changer for Bailey's criminal case.

The case started when officers went to Bailey's apartment to execute a search warrant.  (Nobody challenged the search warrant.)  Officers saw Bailey and another man leave the apartment in a car, and they followed them.  Officers pulled Bailey over about a mile from the apartment, patted him down, and found a ring of keys that they later discovered opened the apartment.  After they found a gun and drugs in the apartment, they charged Bailey.  Bailey moved to suppress the apartment key and statements he made when he was stopped.  The state argued that the officers validly detained him pursuant to the execution of the search warrant, under Summers

The Supreme Court ruled for Bailey.  Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority that a Summers detention incident to the execution of a search warrant extends only to the immediate vicinity of the place to be searched.  He wrote that the law-enforcement reasons for the Summers rule--officer safety, facilitating the completion of the search, and preventing flight--all work within that geographic limit, but not a mile outside of it.  He also wrote that a detention away from the search site involved a greater intrusion into privacy. 

Ruling that Summers did not authorize the search, Justice Kennedy wrote that the officers would need to rely on some other rationale for the detention and pat-down--perhaps Terry v. Ohio and reasonable suspicion.  But while the trial court denied Bailey's motion on both Summers and Terry grounds, the Second Circuit affirmed on Summers alone.  Thus the Supreme Court didn't reach the Terry issue.  All this means that the keys could ultimately be admitted.

Justice Scalia, joined by Justices Ginsburg and Kagan, wrote to say that, contrary to the dissent's approach, the Summers rule is categorical, and not susceptible to case-by-case interest balancing.  Summers, he wrote, "embodies a categorical judgment that in one narrow circumstance--the presence of occupants during the execution of a search warrant--seizures are reasonable despite the absence of probable cause."

Justice Breyer, joined by Justices Thomas and Alito, dissented.  He wrote that the officers acted reasonably, considering the flight risk, possibility of destruction of evidence, and possibility of injury. 



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