A recent ruling released by the U.S. Supreme Court last week, Bailey v. United States,
dealt with the authority of police officers to detain those who leave a residence that officers have come to search.
In an earlier case, Michigan v. Summers, decided in the early 1980s, the Supreme Court held that when police are executing a search warrant the police are entitled to temporarily hold people they discover on the premises even if they do not have a reason to suspect them of engaging in any wrongdoing.
This issue was tested in 2005 when police in Wyandanch, NY arrested a man, Chunon Bailey, even though he had already left the premises before any police arrived to search the building. Furthermore, Mr. Bailey was not stopped on the property in question, but was instead found a mile away from the house. Police officers who stopped Bailey found evidence that linked him to drugs and a weapon found in the house they were sent to search.
On Tuesday, the Court voted 6-3 to refuse to extend the principle laid out in 1981 to the facts of the present case. The justices agreed that the distance, in both time and geography, were too great to allow police the same authority found in the previously decided case. Justice Kennedy wrote that the practical necessities for why an officer might need to detain someone on the premises during a search disappear when that person is a great distance from the scene of the search.
Kennedy elaborated on the problem with allowing such a detention away from the premises. He said that the extraordinary intrusion on personal liberty would be even greater in such a circumstance given that the person would be stopped in public and then be forced to go back to the premises of the search, giving an outward appearance that the subject had been arrested.
The case resulted in a very odd voting alliance among the justices. Besides Kennedy, Roberts, and Scalia joined with Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan to form the majority. Thomas and Alito, two staunch conservatives, joined Justice Breyer in dissenting.
To read the full opinion, click here.
(Lee Davis is a Chattanooga attorney who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 266-0605.)