In Bailey v. United States, decided February 19, 2013, the United States Supreme Court reversed and remanded a ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and narrowed the applicability of the ruling in Michigan v. Summers (1981), an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unlawful seizure.
Summers held that a person who is in the “immediate vicinity” of where a lawful search is taking place may be detained, even if there is no suspicion that the person is dangerous or a threat. The rationale for this is twofold: first, when a person’s dwelling is being searched, “the additional intrusion caused by detention is slight”, and second, a person who is not detained could threaten the safety of the officers and the integrity of the search.
In Bailey, undercover police were positioned outside an apartment in New York where a confidential informant had observed a gun during a drug deal. Police were preparing to execute a search warrant when two men left in a car. The men were followed for about a mile before police pulled them over. One of the two men, Chunon Bailey, admitted that the apartment was his, but then denied it when he was informed of the search. Both men were arrested and were driven back to the apartment, where it was discovered that one of Bailey’s keys unlocked the front door. Subsequently, Bailey was charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, possession of a firearm by a felon, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking offense. Prosecutors argued that the seizure was lawful under Summers, or alternatively, Terry (a Terry Stop is when a person is stopped by police because of a “reasonable suspicion” that the person was engaged in criminal activity).
At trial, Bailey moved to suppress the key and his statements to the police, arguing both were the result of an unreasonable seizure. Without the key and his statements, Bailey would not have been arrested and there would be nothing linking him to the apartment. His defense argued that since the stop was so far away from where the search was taking place, Summers did not apply. Both the District Court and Circuit Court disagreed.
In an opinion written by Justice Kennedy, the Supreme Court ruled that the exception set forth in Summers did not apply in this situation, since Bailey was not in the “immediate vicinity” of the search. Had he been stopped as he was leaving the apartment or upon his return, the stop and evidence would have been admissible. The Court did not, however, opine on whether or not the stop was constitutional under Terry. The lower court will decide that issue later this year.