Recent United States Supreme Court decision in Bailey holds that police cannot seize an individual leaving a residence subject to a search warrant

The United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Bailey v. United States on February 19, 2013 holding that its precedent in Michigan v. Summers does not allow the police to seize an individual that has left the premise prior to a search. You can read the Bailey decision here.

Background of the Bailey Case

The Bailey case involved police officers detaining an individual one mile from the premise to be searched. Police officers were given information through an informant that crack cocaine was being sold at a residence. A warrant was obtained. While the officers were conducting surveillance prior to executing the warrant, officers witnesses the target of the search leaving the premise and detailed the individual and brought him back to the premise. During the detention, police seized incriminating evidence, recovering the keys to the premises along with drugs and firearms.

Reasoning of the United States Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court went through the justifications articulated in Summers for allowing a police officer to seize an individual on the premise of a residence subject to a search. Summers held that individuals in a house that is being lawfully searched may be detained, without arrest, for the duration of the search. The detention was allowed based on three reasons; (1) to prevent individuals from fleeing once paraphernalia is seized, (2) to provide safety for the officers and (3) to aid in the orderly completion of the search.

The Bailey Court went through the three reasons relied on by the Second Circuit to extend Summers and rejected each justification relied on by the Second Circuit and other Circuit courts that extended Summers. The decision resolved a split among the Circuits in interpreting Summers.

First, the United States Supreme Court found that officer safety did not justify the detention for someone leaving a premise to be searched. The Court held that the fact that individual may return to a premise does not justify an officer seizing an individual who left the premise. The Court found that officer safety cannot justify a detention because there is always a risk of someone returning to the premise and the police can protect themselves from this risk by blocking the premise.

Second, the court found that the orderly completion of the search did not justify the officer bringing an individual back to the search premise. The court found that it was clear that the defendant Bailey did not want to cooperate with the police.

The third justification preventing flight, related to the potential of destruction of evidence. The Court held that preventing flight of someone who left the premise is inconsistent with the Fourth Amendment and the principles of Terry v. Ohio.

The Court found that the Second Circuit decision would give officer too much discretion to detain an individual and that Summers only allows for a detention in the immediate vicinity of the premise to be searched.

In its Bailey decision, the Court resolved a split of authority among the Circuits where courts were applying a more subjective test similar to the Second Circuit test that the seizure is appropriate if it occurs as soon as practical after a suspect leaves the residence. As a Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer, the Bailey decision is consistent with reasoning of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in Commonwealth v. Charros and was a well reasoned decision interpreting the Fourth Amendment and the Summers decision. As noted in the concurrence of Justice Scalia, this decision gives officers clear guidance when executing a warrant and provides a bright line rule for courts interpreting the Fourth Amendment in this area.

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