By Jonathan Stempel
WASHINGTON, Feb 19 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on
Tuesday made it harder for police to detain people far away from
a suspected crime scene when the only justification for the
detention is to make it safer and easier to conduct a search of
By a 6-3 ruling that did not follow its typical ideological
divisions, the court said police in Long Island, New York,
violated defendant Chunon Bailey's rights by detaining him so
they could search his basement apartment a mile (1.6 km) away.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority that police
may detain people in connection with executing a search warrant,
but need another rationale to detain people far from the scene.
"Once an occupant is beyond the immediate vicinity of the
premises to be searched, the search-related law enforcement
interests are diminished and the intrusiveness of the detention
is more severe," Kennedy wrote.
Neither Bailey's lawyer nor the U.S. Department of Justice
immediately responded to requests for comment.
Twenty-four U.S. states had filed a brief supporting the
government, while Bailey drew support from several
criminal-defense groups and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Bailey had been pulled over in a parking lot by police who
had tailed him and another man for about five minutes after he
had left a home in Wyandanch, New York.
This occurred after a confidential informant told police he
had observed a gun while buying drugs at the home from a man
known as "Polo," whom Bailey resembled. The police soon found
Bailey's keys to the home during a "patdown" search.
Bailey was unable to persuade his trial judge to suppress
the key and statements made to police as evidence resulting from
an unreasonable seizure, and was later found guilty of firearms
and drug possession charges.
His conviction was upheld in July 2011 by a federal appeals
court in New York. Tuesday's decision reverses that ruling, but
the Supreme Court left open whether the patdown search, assuming
it was valid, yielded information that justified the detention.
It returned the case to a lower court for further proceedings.
Joining Kennedy's majority opinion were Chief Justice John
Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia, all three appointees of
Republican presidents, and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia
Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, all appointees of Democratic
Justice Stephen Breyer dissented, joined by Justices
Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.
Breyer said the police acted reasonably, and that the
majority drew a line based on "indeterminate geography" that did
not properly address concerns arising from the Fourth Amendment
over privacy, safety, the destruction of evidence and the risk
The case is Bailey v. U.S., U.S. Supreme Court, No. 11-770.
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