In the recent United States Supreme Court case of Chunon Bailey versus the United States, the facts were as follows:
While police were preparing to execute a warrant to search a basement apartment for a handgun, detectives sitting inside an unmarked car outside the apartment saw two men—later identified as Chunon Bailey and Bryant Middleton—leave the gated area above the apartment, get in a car, and drive away. The detectives waited for the men to leave and then followed the car approximately a mile before stopping it. They found keys during a patdown search of Bailey who at first said that he lived in the apartment but later denied it when told about the search. Both men were handcuffed and driven in a patrol car to the apartment where the police had already found a gun and illegal drugs. After arresting the men, police discovered that one of Bailey's keys unlocked the apartment's door.
At trial, the judge denied Bailey's motion to suppress the apartment key and the statements he made to the detectives when stopped, holding that Bailey's detention was legal because:
1. It was incident to the execution of a search warrant; and
2. It was supported by reasonable suspicion.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, finding instead that Bailey's detention by the police was illegal. The Court reasoned that:
1. The law permits police officers executing a search warrant to detain the occupants of the premises while a proper search is conducted even when there is no particular suspicion that an individual is involved in criminal activity or poses a specific danger to the officers, Such detention is permitted because the character of the additional intrusion caused by detention is slight and because the justifications for detention are substantial. However, in other cases, the detained occupants were found within or immediately outside the residence being searched. Here, however, Bailey left the apartment before the search began and was detained nearly a mile away.
2. There are three important law enforcement interests that justify detaining an occupant who is on the premises during the search warrant's execution.
a. The first such interest, officer safety, requires officers to secure the premises, which may include detaining current occupants so the officers can search without fear that the occupants will become disruptive, dangerous, or otherwise frustrate the search. If an occupant returns home during the search, officers can lessen the risk by taking routine precautions. In this case, however, Bailey posed little risk to the officers at the scene after he left the premises, apparently without knowledge of the search. Had he returned, he could have been apprehended and detained. Were police to have the authority to detain persons away from the premises, the authority to detain incident to the execution of a search warrant would reach beyond the rationale of ensuring the integrity of the search by detaining those who are on the scene. If officers believe that it would be dangerous to detain a departing individual in front of a residence, they are not required to stop him; and if officers have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, they can detain him on that basis alone. The risk that a departing occupant might alert those still inside the residence is also an insufficient safety rationale for expanding the detention authority beyond the immediate vicinity of the premises to be searched.
b. The second law enforcement interest is the facilitation of the completion of the search. Unrestrained occupants can hide or destroy evidence, seek to distract the officers, or simply get in the way. But a general interest in avoiding obstruction of a search cannot justify detention beyond the vicinity of the premises. Occupants who are kept from leaving may assist the officers by opening locked doors or containers in order to avoid the use of force that can damage property or delay completion of the search. But this justification must be confined to persons on site as the search warrant is executed and so in a position to observe the progression of the search.
c. The third law enforcement interest is the interest in preventing flight, which also serves to preserve the integrity of the search. If officers are concerned about flight in the event incriminating evidence is found, they might rush the search, causing unnecessary damage or compromising its careful execution. The need to prevent flight, however, if left unchecked, might be used to argue for detention of any regular occupant regardless of his or her location at the time of the search, for example, detaining a suspect 10 miles away, ready to board a plane. Even if the detention of a former occupant away from the premises could facilitate a later arrest if incriminating evidence is discovered, the mere fact that law enforcement may be made more efficient can never by itself justify disregard of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
None of the three law enforcement interests discussed above applies with the same or similar force to the detention of recent occupants beyond the immediate vicinity of the premises to be searched. And each interest is also insufficient, on its own, to justify an expansion of the law that allows the detention of a former occupant, wherever he may be found away from the scene of the search.
3. The detention of a current occupant represents only an incremental intrusion on personal liberty when the search of a home has been authorized by a valid warrant, but an arrest of an individual away from his home involves an additional level of intrusiveness. A public detention, even if merely incident to a search, will resemble a full-fledged arrest and can involve the indignity of a compelled transfer back to the premises.
4. Limiting the area within which an occupant poses a real threat to the safe and efficient execution of a search warrant ensures that the scope of the detention incident to a search is confined to its underlying justification. Because Mr. Bailey was detained at a point beyond any reasonable understanding of immediate vicinity, there is no need to further define that term here. Since detention is justified by the interests in executing a safe and efficient search, the decision to detain must be acted upon at the scene of the search and not at a later time in a more remote place.