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US Supreme Court clarifies detentions during police raids

 Posted on February 20,2013 in Dealing with the Police

In 1981, the United States Supreme Court ruled that officers have the authority to detain people without suspicion of criminal activity during the execution of a search warrant at a residence.

The 1981 ruling was based on the concepts of officer safety and to keep a person from fleeing during a raid. However, the high court provided more clarification to the scope of the constitutional authority law enforcement has in detaining people without suspicion during a raid in a ruling handed down Tuesday.

The justices voted six to three limiting the authority of police to detain a person related to a search to the immediate vicinity of the location identified in the search warrant. Generally, law enforcement is not entitled under our Constitution to unreasonably detain a person without a basis to suspect the person of criminal activity.

In 2005, a man left an apartment with a friend. Law enforcement was about to raid the apartment to search for a gun. But the two men got in a car and left the building before police entered with a warrant. The men did not know that police intended to search the home. 


An officer followed the men after they drove away and made a traffic stop some time later --nearly a mile from the apartment. However, police claimed that the so-called traffic stop was related to the search warrant about a mile away, and apparently not based upon some current traffic offense or other suspicion of criminal activity.

Police seized car keys from one man and found a key on the ring that matched the door to the apartment where police were conducting the raid. The defendant apparently did not challenge the legality of the warrant or the apartment search, but argued that his seizure away from the vicinity of the raid was unlawful and sought to have the key thrown out, which prosecutors used to link him to the apartment. Police seized drugs and a weapon from the apartment and the man was charged with several felonies.

The high court ruled Tuesday in favor of the defendant. The court ruled the authority to detain people without suspicion and incident to the execution of a search warrant is limited to the immediate vicinity of the search. Because the man was detained about a mile away, the court did not further define the immediate vicinity of the search. The individual case was sent back to the lower courts.




  • Washington Post, "Supreme Court limits police power to detain people outside their residence during search," Associated Press, Feb. 19, 2013



  • United States Supreme Court, Bailey v. United States, No. 11-770. Argued November 1, 2012-Decided February 19, 2013



  • Our firm provides criminal defense for people accused of weapon and drug crimes in the Santa Cruz area, which often involve searches and seizures. For more information on the firm, please visit the Santa Cruz drug possession page.



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