A TEMPORARY SEIZURE IS LAWFUL IF IT IS SUPPORTED BY PC, LIMITED IN NATURE, AND TAILORED REASONABLY TO SECURE LAW ENFORCEMENT NEEDS WHILE ALSO PROTECTING PRIVACY INTERESTS
CASE: On April 2, 1997, McArthur asked two police officers to accompany her back to her trailer home so that she could remove her belongings. She needed the officers to help her keep the peace with her estranged husband, Charles (defendant). When they arrived at the trailer, the husband was at home. The officers remained outside while McArthur went inside. When she came out McArthur spoke to one of the officers, Chief Love, and suggested that he search the trailer because she said Charles had “dope” inside. She told him that her husband kept it under the couch. When Love knocked on the trailer door and told Charles what the wife had said, asking whether he could come in, the husband said no. Love then sent the other officer and McArthur to get a search warrant. When Charles was with Love on the porch, Love told the husband that he could not reenter the trailer unless a police officer went with him. The husband went inside the trailer two or three times (for cigarettes and to make a phone call), and each time, Love stood just inside the door to observe what the husband was doing. The second officer returned two hours later with the search warrant, and they and other officers searched the trailer home. They found a marijuana pipe under the sofa as well as marijuana itself. They arrested Charles. At trial, Charles tried to suppress the pipe and other drug-related objects as the “fruits” of an unlawful search. The trial court granted the husband’s motion. The Appellate Court of Illinois affirmed, and the Supreme Court of Illinois denied the state’s petition of leave to appeal. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.
Is a temporary seizure lawful if it is supported by probable cause, limited in nature, and tailored reasonably to secure law enforcement needs while also protecting privacy interests?
Holding and Reasoning (Breyer, J.)
Yes. A temporary seizure is lawful if it is supported by probable cause, limited in nature, and tailored reasonably to secure law enforcement needs while also protecting privacy interests. Since they were informed by the wife about the nature and location of the drugs, the police had probable cause to believe that the husband had illegal drugs in the house. Certainly, the police, who told the husband what the wife had said about his possessing drugs, had good reason to believe that the husband might try to destroy the evidence before a search warrant could be procured. Moreover, the police acted reasonably in neither searching the house nor arresting the husband, but only restraining the husband from entering until the search warrant could be delivered. Such a compromise represents a reasonable balance of law enforcement needs and privacy interests under the Fourth Amendment. In reviewing our case law, we noted previous cases where the police effected seizures lasting 19 hours or more. Compared with these, the seizure in question, which lasted a mere two hours, seems limited in nature and negligible in effect. Importantly, the temporary seizure was reasonably tailored to the situation, since the police did not remove anything or arrest the husband. The police even let the husband enter the trailer, but observed him accordingly so that he would not remove any evidence. For the foregoing reasons we find the temporary seizure reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. We reverse the decision of the Appellate Court of Illinois and remand.