U.S. Supreme Court

A mile is too far for SCOTUS; opinion limits detentions of people away from homes being searched

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution doesn’t permit police to seize an individual incident to a search of a home when the person is a mile away.

The court ruled on Tuesday in a 6-3 opinion (PDF). “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,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority.

The court said the detention of the defendant, Chunon Bailey, could not be justified under the rule announced in the 1981 opinion Michigan v. Summers, which allowed detention of an individual walking down the front stairs of a home being searched. Bailey had left the basement apartment in Wyandanch, N.Y., and was a mile away when police who were trailing his car detained him and a passenger. Bailey had denied he lived in the apartment, but one of his keys seized incident to the arrest proved otherwise. Police found drugs and a gun during the apartment search.

Summers had cited three reasons justifying the seizure of a person incident to a search: officer safety, facilitating the completion of the search, and preventing flight. Those reasons don’t have the same force when the occupant of the home is beyond the immediate vicinity of the premises to be searched, Kennedy said.

Bailey’s detention may be justified, however, if prosecutors can prove their alternate theory that it was supported by reasonable suspicion, Kennedy said.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

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