U.S. Supreme Court Will Consider Case of Police Detention Related to a Search Warrant

The case of a man who was detained by police executing a search warrant will go before the U.S. Supreme Court in October. What distinguishes this case, Bailey v. United States, from prior search and seizure cases, according to the petitioner, is the fact that police detained him after he had left the vicinity of the area covered by the search warrant. The trial court and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that the police did not violate the petitioner’s Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure by detaining and searching him, allegedly incident to the search warrant. The petition to the Supreme Court asks whether such a search is lawful under the Court’s decision in Michigan v. Summers, 452 U.S. 692 (1981).

Police in Suffolk County, New York obtained a search warrant for the basement apartment of a property in Wyandanch. The warrant named a “chrome .380 handgun” as the main target of the search, and identified the occupant of the apartment as a man named “Polo.” Just before 10:00 p.m. on July 28, 2005, two detectives observed the petitioner, Chunon L. Bailey, and Bryant Middleton exit the gate at the top of the stairs leading to the basement apartment and drive away in a black Lexus. Both men matched the physical description of “Polo.”

The detectives followed the Lexus for about a mile and pulled the car over in a fire station parking lot, about five minutes after the Lexus left the property subject to the search warrant. Bailey and Middleton reportedly both stated that Bailey lived at the basement apartment property. The detectives put both men in handcuffs, saying they were being “detained,” not arrested. They returned to the basement apartment property, where police had searched the apartment and found drugs and a gun in plain sight. Police arrested both Bailey and Middleton.

Bailey moved to suppress the physical evidence obtained from the search, arguing the detectives lacked probable cause to detain him and violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The court denied that motion, and a jury convicted Bailey on federal drug and firearms charges. Bailey appealed, in part, on the basis that his detention by detectives violated Summers.

The Summers case held that police may detain “occupants” of a property during execution of a search warrant, even in the absence of any suspicion specific to an individual occupant. In that case, police executing a search warrant detained an individual on the premises as he was leaving, and later arrested him based on the search of the premises. Bailey sought to distinguish his case based on the assertion that the detectives had no way of knowing, from their vantage point in the street, whether Bailey had come out of the basement apartment or the house upstairs. The Second Circuit, in United States v. Bailey, 652 F.3d 197 (2nd Cir. 2011), held that Summers requires police to identify a person as they leave premises subject to a search warrant, and they must detain the person as soon as possible. It affirmed the verdict, finding that the detectives had a reasonable belief that Bailey had emerged from the basement apartment. The Supreme Court will soon consider whether the Second Circuit applied Summers correctly.

Michael J. Brown, a board-certified criminal defense attorney, fights for the rights of Texas defendants, making certain that law enforcement and the courts abide by all the rules and procedures of the criminal justice system. To learn more about how we can assist you in your legal matter, contact us online or call (432) 687-5157.

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