U.S. Supreme Court Limits Search Warrant Detentions

Earlier this Spring, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision, Bailey v. United States, that limited the ability of police officers to detain individuals while executing a search warrant.  Prior to the decision, police officers had followed the so called “Summers” rule, which permitted the detention of the occupants of a premise that was subject to a search warrant even though there was not a particular suspicion that the individual being detained was involved in criminal activity or posed a specific danger to the officers. In Bailey, the officers observed a suspected drug dealer leaving an apartment just prior to executing a search warrant on the premises.  The officers followed the suspect and stopped and detained him approximately one mile away.  During the detention, the officers found a key in the suspect’s left front pocket, which turned out to be a key to the apartment.  The suspect insisted he did not live at the apartment.  During the search of the department, the police found a gun and drugs in plain view, and the police arrested the suspect.  During trial and on appeal, the suspect claimed he was unlawfully detained, and in its decision, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed.

The Court held that the Summers rule is limited to the immediate vicinity of the premises to be searched.  As explained by the Court, "[o]nce an occupant is beyond the immediate vicinity of the premises to be searched, the search-related law enforcement interests are diminished and the intrusiveness of the detention is more severe.“  Here, a detention a mile from the premises to be searched was simply too far away to justify the detention under the Summers rule.  The Court further explained that in closer cases courts can consider a number of factors to determine whether an occupant was detained within the immediate vicinity of the premises to be searched, including the lawful limits of the premises, whether the occupant was within the line of sight of his dwelling, the ease of reentry from the occupant’s location, and other relevant factors.  A more detailed analysis of the case is available on the SCOTUSblog.