In order to place someone under arrest, police officers need to have probable cause. This means that you cannot be arrested unless officers have a level of suspicion based on objective evidence that makes it reasonable to suspect you have probably committed a crime or are about to commit a crime.
However, there are certain limited circumstances in which you may be lawfully stopped by police without the encounter amounting to an arrest. One of these special situations is when you are the occupant of a house that the police are searching or are about to search under the authority of a valid warrant.
In 1981, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the police may detain the occupants of a house that is being lawfully searched in order to facilitate the search and to promote officer safety. For example, if police knocked on the door of a house to execute a search warrant, and the owner answered, the police would generally be within their authority to hold the owner outside on the porch while the search was being conducted.
The twofold reasoning of this rule made intuitive sense. Not only would it be cumbersome for officers to conduct a search with a building’s occupants in the way, but the risk of evidence being hidden or destroyed with occupants wandering freely was high. Additionally, the threat of a suspect using a concealed weapon, especially if he or she observed officers coming close to the object of their search, justified an officer safety exception to the probable cause requirement of an arrest. Thus, building occupants at the scene of a search can be detained in a reasonable manner.
But, what if the suspect was not actually present at the premises to be searched when officers arrived? What if he was, in fact, almost a mile away?
That is exactly what happened in the case Bailey v. United States that will be decided by the Supreme Court this winter. Officers observed Chunon Bailey leaving his residence as they were about to conduct a search of the premises pursuant to a warrant. The officers watched Bailey for a time, then detained him approximately a mile from his home and brought him back there while they conducted the search. After the officers uncovered drugs and a gun, Bailey was arrested.
To be a valid detention of an occupant outside the premises to be searched, the actions of the police must be “reasonable.” Bailey argues that it is unreasonable to detain an occupant who has left the immediate vicinity of the premises to be searched without probable cause for the arrest, as this furthers none of the justifications for such detentions that have previously been articulated by the Supreme Court. The government, on the other hand, says that detention a short distance away from the premises to be searched is no more intrusive than detention at the site itself, and is justified because the occupant may flee or could return to the premises to interfere with the search.
Outcome of Case Will Drastically Affect Many Future Cases Involving Searches
The outcome of Bailey v. United States will affect many future cases, particularly those that center around drug charges and similar allegations that typically rely heavily on physical evidence produced by police searches. If the Supreme Court accepts the government’s reasoning, police will have far greater discretion to detain one-time occupants of a structure before or during a search, even if these individuals have left the immediate vicinity. However, if Bailey prevails, it will be clear that building occupants may only be detained at the site of a search, and that evidence collected as a result of violating a suspect’s right not to be detained could be suppressed in court. Oral arguments were heard in Bailey v. United States on October 30, and the Supreme Court’s final decision is expected in a matter of months.
If you are facing drug charges or another type of accusation, it is important to stage a strong legal defense so you can get unfavorable evidence thrown out. To learn more about how Bailey v. United States could affect your case or to contest evidence collected in violation of your rights, talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney today.