Efficiency No Grounds for Search & Seizure Exception

The U.S. Supreme Court case of Bailey v. United States addressed whether the seizure of a person is reasonable under the 4th Amendment when he‘s stopped and detained “at some distance away from the premises” that are to be legally searched under a warrant.

The state tried to justify (and the lower courts agreed) the search under Michigan v. Summers or in the alternative Terry v. Ohio. The Court did not get to the Terry issue since it was not properly presented. The Court did find the case did not meet the requirements of Summers thereby finding the detention and search illegal under the 4th Amendment.

In a nutshell, the police mentioned no justification for their actions other than the “safety and efficacy of the search.” The Court stated forcefully that this was insufficient quoting Mincy v. Arizona; “the mere fact that law enforcement may be made more efficient can never by itself justify disregard of the Fourth Amendment.”

This case began when police obtained a warrant to search a residence for a handgun. The residence was a basement apartment, where a confidential informant indicated that he saw a gun. While the police prepared to execute the search warrant, two officers who were conducting surveillance outside observed the petitioner and another man leave the gated area outside the basement residence. They matched a general description from the confidential informant.

The men showed no indication that they knew police were at the residence or of the imminent search. The petitioner and the other man left the in a vehicle. Officers followed them stopping them nearly a mile from the residence. The police found no weapons in the vehicle or other evidence of criminal activity. They did find a set of keys in the petitioner‘s pocket which later proved to open the door to the premises to be searched under warrant. The men were arrested.

The police found drugs and firearms in the basement apartment during their search. The defendant was charged with several offenses related to possession of cocaine and a firearm. At trial, he moved to suppress the set of keys and the statements he made when the officers pulled over his car as the products of an illegal search and seizure.

The Court first invoked the Fourth Amendment, making clear that it protects people against unreasonable searches and seizures. The Court explained that the police have “some latitude” to detain suspects in certain situations, and the Summers case provides an example of those situations.

Summers provides the basis for detention of suspects “incident to the execution of a search warrant.” The Court noted that Summers applied to those cases where the defendant was detained either within the residence being searched or immediately outside it.

The Court also explained that the rule in Summers was intended to: 1) prevent harm to the police officers at the scene, 2) allow the police to complete an orderly search, and 3) prevent the defendant from fleeing when the police find incriminating evidence.

None of these considerations appeared to be met in this case. The Court reasoned that should Summers be found applicable here, what would stop the same rationale from applying when police decide to detain who is “10 miles away, ready to board a plane.”

Though this would certainly facilitate an investigation and lead to certain efficiencies, these are not the sort of circumstances envisioned by Summers.


Related Reading:
4th Amendment and the Plain View Doctrine
Search & Seizure Rights Greater Under New Mexico Law than 4th Amendment
Yelling “Freeze” Constitutes a Seizure Under the 4th Amendment

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