Sunday, July 10th, 2011

Summers-Time Blues

United States v. Bailey, No. 07-3819-cr (2d Cir. July 6, 2011) (Cabranes, Pooler, Raggi, CJJ)

In Michigan v Summers, 452 U.S. 602 (1981), the Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment permitted police officers to detain the occupant of a premises during the execution of a search warrant, without need for individualized suspicion of the person detained. Here, the circuit, joining an issue in which the courts are divided, held that Summers also permits detaining the occupants after they have left the premises.


In July of 2005, Suffolk County detectives obtained a search warrant for a basement apartment in Wyandanch, based on an informant’s tip that there was a gun there. When they arrived at the location to execute the warrant, they saw Bailey and an associate exiting the apartment. They drove off and the officers followed; about a mile from the apartment, the officers stopped Bailey’s car.

The officers patted Bailey down and, although he produced a driver’s license with a different address, he said that he was coming from “his” house at the target address. His friend also told the police that Bailey lived there. The officers took Bailey into custody and told him that the detention was incident to the search of the target location. Bailey answered that he did not live there and would not cooperate with the investigation.

Back at the original location, a gun and drugs were found in the apartment. Bailey was arrested and his keys were seized incident to the arrest. One of them opened the door of the apartment.

In the district court, Bailey moved to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of his detention – his statements and the physical evidence, including his keys. The district court denied the motion, citing Summers.

The Circuit’s Reasoning

On Bailey’s appeal, the circuit affirmed. Like the district court, it relied on Summers, which had concluded that the intrusion associated with being detained during a lawful search was minimal, while the justifications for it were substantial: law enforcement’s interests in preventing a suspect from fleeing; minimizing the risk of harm to the officers; and completing the search in a “orderly” manner.

The circuit had little difficulty concluding that the authority to detain an occupant “at” the premises during the search also covered detaining an occupant who “leaves” the premises “during or immediately before the execution of a search warrant.” The court noted that three circuits had extended Summers to these facts, while two had not, and decided to join with the majority, citing the “guiding principle … of reasonableness.”

The circuit concluded that, like a detention at the premises, the intrusion of an off-premises detention is “de minimis” and the law enforcement interests substantial. Summers does not draw a “bright line” at “the residence’s curb.” Rather, the interests identified in Summers also permit detention of an occupant “nearby, but outside of, the premises.”

The court noted that this rule would prevent officers from having to make the “Hobson’s choice” of either immediately detaining an occupant who is leaving – thus risking officer safety and the destruction of evidence – or letting him leave the scene – thus risking the inability to arrest him if incriminating evidence is found.

On these grounds, then, Bailey’s detention was lawful. Detaining him out of view of the house out of concern for the officers’ safety and to prevent alerting other possible occupants was, here, “reasonable and prudent.” Moreover, the detention was not “unreasonably prolonged.” By the time Bailey was returned to the location the search was underway, and he was placed under arrest within five minutes of the execution of the warrant.

The court ended with a “note of caution.” Summers is not “a license for law enforcement to detain ‘occupants’ of premises subject to a search warrant anywhere they [may] be found incident to that search.” Rather, the rule announced here applies only when the occupant “is seen leaving those premises and the detention is effected as soon as reasonably practicable.” The court also announced its expectation that these geographic and temporal limitations “will be policed vigilantly by the courts.”

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