The Possible Future Of Search Warrant Detentions

In July 2005, Suffolk County, New York police obtained a warrant to search the apartment of Chunon Bailey. Specifically, officers were looking for a handgun described by a confidential informant. After obtaining the warrant, surveillance officers saw Bailey and another man drive away from the apartment and began to follow them. After those officers drove off, the SWAT team executed the search warrant and entered the apartment.

The officers followed Bailey for approximately one mile before pulling him over. Their only justification for the stop was the execution of the warrant back at the apartment. The officers told Bailey and his friend they were not under arrest, but were merely being detained incident to the search warrant. Bailey said, “I don’t live there. Anything you find there ain’t mine, and I’m not cooperating with your investigation.”

By the time the men were transported back to the apartment, police had found drugs and a gun. A deeper search yielded two more guns, ammunition and drug paraphernalia. The police also discovered that one of the keys found on Bailey during the detention opened the apartment door. Bailey was indicted on charges of possession of crack cocaine with the intent to distribute, possession of a firearm as a felon and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.

The trial court denied Bailey’s motion to suppress his statements and the apartment key on grounds of an invalid detention. The court denied the motion, citing the 1981 U.S. Supreme Court case Michigan v. Summers that gives police limited authority to detain the occupants of a residence while it is being searched. Bailey was convicted of all three counts and was sentenced to 30 years in prison followed by five years of supervised release.

The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Bailey’s conviction, ruling that Summers authorizes police to detain occupants seen leaving a residence subject to a search warrant “as soon as reasonably practicable.” Bailey appealed and the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to address the question of whether the authority to detain a person incident to the execution of a search warrant Summers extends beyond the immediate vicinity of the area being searched.

In oral arguments to the Supreme Court, many of the Justices seemed apprehensive about extending the authority to detain beyond the area of the search. “So you are taking the exception, which was tied tightly to the house,” said Justice Ginsburg to the government’s attorney. “It was an exception to the main Fourth Amendment rule, and now you are asking to have that exception spread.”

Going Forward

Should the Supreme Court overturn Bailey’s conviction and decide that Summers authority ceases past the immediate vicinity of the search area, it could result in the reversal of several convictions based on evidence obtained under similar circumstances. Going forward, police would only be able to detain subjects of a search warrant at the place of the search. Once a subject leaves the area, police would not be permitted to detain based on the search warrant only.

This and other search and seizure issues can be complicated and highly nuanced and require rigorous legal analysis. If you or are a loved one has been charged with a criminal offense, contact an experienced defense attorney to analyze the legalities of your situation and discuss your options.