Michigan v. Summers, 452 U.S. 692 (1981)

2012-08-02 10:54:22

In Summers, the police executed a search warrant for narcotics at the defendant’s house and detained him for the duration of the search. After finding narcotics in the basement, the police arrested and searched the defendant, finding heroin in his coat pocket. On the defendant’s motion, the trial judge suppressed the heroin as fruit of an illegal search and was affirmed on appeal. The Supreme Court reversed, five to three, announcing a bright-line rule that search warrants for contraband carry with them implied limited authority to detain the occupants of the premises for the duration of the search.

The central issue before the Court was whether police can detain a suspect during a search without an arrest warrant when he is not inside the premises at the time the search begins. After looking at the individual privacy rights and government interests involved, the Court applied a reasonableness test to determine the constitutionality of the detention. The Court likened this case to the detentions in Terry v. Ohio (392 U.S. 1, 1968) and Adams v. Williams (407, U.S. 143, 1972), while contrasting it with Dunaway v. New York (442 U.S. 200, 1979), and held that while this stop constituted a seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, it was sufficiently limited in scope and justified by special law enforcement needs not to require a warrant. The dissent argued that the detention of a suspect without an arrest warrant for the duration of a search is not sufficiently justified by unique law enforcement needs to constitute an exception to the general rule against warrantless seizures.


References and Further Reading

  • Paul, Launice, Case Developments: Criminal Law—Search and Seizure—in the Execution of a Search Warrant for Contraband Police May Detain Occupants of the Premises While a Proper Search Is Conducted: Michigan v. Summers, Howard Law Journal 25 (1982): 143–158.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Adams v. Williams, 407, U.S. 143 (1972)
  • Dunaway v. New York, 442 U.S. 200 (1979)
  • Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968)

See also Arrest; Arrest without a Warrant; Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491 (1983); Fruit of the Poisonous Tree; Probable Cause; Search (General Definition); Search Warrants; Seizures; Warrant Clause (IV)