531 U.S. 326 (2001), 99-1132, Illinois v. McArthur

Docket Nº:Case No. 99-1132
Citation:531 U.S. 326, 121 S.Ct. 946, 148 L.Ed.2d 838
Case Date:February 20, 2001
Court:United States Supreme Court

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531 U.S. 326 (2001)

121 S.Ct. 946, 148 L.Ed.2d 838




Case No. 99-1132

United States Supreme Court

February 20, 2001

Argued November 1, 2000



Police officers, with probable cause to believe that respondent McArthur had hidden marijuana in his home, prevented him from entering the home unaccompanied by an officer for about two hours while they obtained a search warrant. Once they did so, the officers found drug paraphernalia and marijuana, and arrested McArthur. He was subsequently charged with misdemeanor possession of those items. He moved to suppress the evidence on the ground that it was the "fruit" of an unlawful police seizure, namely, the refusal to let him reenter his home unaccompanied. The Illinois trial court granted the motion, and the State Appellate Court affirmed.


Given the nature of the intrusion and the law enforcement interest at stake, the brief seizure of the premises was permissible under the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 330-337.

(a) The Amendment's central requirement is one of reasonableness. Although, in the ordinary case, personal property seizures are unreasonable unless accomplished pursuant to a warrant, United States v. Place, 462 U.S. 696, 701, there are exceptions to this rule involving special law enforcement needs, diminished expectations of privacy, minimal intrusions, and the like, see, e. g., Pennsylvania v. Labron, 518 U.S. 938, 940-941. The circumstances here involve a plausible claim of specially pressing or urgent law enforcement need. Cf., e. g., United States v. Place, supra, at 701. Moreover, the restraint at issue was tailored to that need, being limited in time and scope, cf. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 29-30, and avoiding significant intrusion into the home itself, cf. Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 585. Consequently, rather than employing a per se rule of unreasonableness, the Court must balance the privacy-related and law enforcement-related concerns to determine if the intrusion here was reasonable. Cf. Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 654. In light of the following circumstances, considered in combination, the Court concludes that the restriction was reasonable, and hence lawful. First, the police had probable cause to believe that McArthur's home contained evidence of a crime and unlawful drugs. Second, they had good reason to fear that, unless restrained, he would destroy the drugs before they could return with a warrant. Third, they

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made reasonable efforts to reconcile their law enforcement needs with the demands of personal privacy by avoiding a warrantless entry or arrest and preventing McArthur only from entering his home unaccompanied. Fourth, they imposed the restraint for a limited period, which was no longer than reasonably necessary for them, acting with diligence, to obtain the warrant. Pp. 330-333.

(b) The conclusion that the restriction was lawful finds significant support in this Court's case law. See, e. g., Segura v. United States, 468 U.S. 796; United States v. Place, supra, at 706. And in no case has this Court held unlawful a temporary seizure that was supported by probable cause and was designed to prevent the loss of evidence while the police diligently obtained a warrant in a reasonable period. But cf. Welsh v. Wisconsin, 466 U.S. 740, 754. Pp. 333-334.

(c) The Court is not persuaded by the countervailing considerations raised by the parties or lower courts: that the police proceeded without probable cause; that, because McArthur was on his porch, the police order that he stay outside his home amounted to an impermissible "constructive eviction"; that an officer, with McArthur's consent, stepped inside the home's doorway to observe McArthur when McArthur reentered the home on two or three occasions; and that Welsh v. Wisconsin, supra, at 742, 754, offers direct support for McArthur's position. Pp. 334-336.

304 Ill.App.3d 395, 713 N.E.2d 93, reversed and remanded.

Breyer, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, and Ginsburg, JJ., joined. Souter, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 337. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 338.

Joel D. Bertocchi, Solicitor General of Illinois, argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were James E. Ryan, Attorney General, and William L. Browers and Colleen M. Griffin, Assistant Attorneys General.

Matthew D. Roberts argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Waxman, Assistant Attorney General Robinson, Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben, and Deborah Watson.

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Deanne Fortna Jones argued the cause for respondent. With her on the brief was Jeff Justice. [*]

Justice Breyer delivered the opinion of the Court.

Police officers, with probable cause to believe that a man had hidden marijuana in his home, prevented that man from entering the home for about two hours while they obtained a search warrant. We must decide whether those officers violated the Fourth Amendment. We conclude that the officers acted reasonably. They did not violate the Amendment's requirements. And we reverse an Illinois court's holding to the contrary.



On April 2, 1997, Tera McArthur asked two police officers to accompany her to the trailer where she lived with her husband, Charles, so that they could keep the peace while she removed her belongings. The two officers, Assistant Chief John Love and Officer Richard Skidis, arrived with

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Tera at the trailer at about 3:15 p.m. Tera went inside, where Charles was present. The officers remained outside.

When Tera emerged after collecting her possessions, she spoke to Chief Love, who was then on the porch. She suggested he check the trailer because "Chuck had dope in there." App. 15. She added (in Love's words) that she had seen Chuck "slid[e] some dope underneath the couch." Id., at 19.

Love knocked on the trailer door, told Charles what Tera had said, and asked for permission to search the trailer, which Charles denied. Love then sent Officer Skidis with Tera to get a search warrant.

Love told Charles, who by this time was also on the porch, that he could not reenter the trailer unless a police officer accompanied him. Charles subsequently reentered the trailer two or three times (to get cigarettes and to make phone calls), and each time Love stood just inside the door to observe what Charles did.

Officer Skidis obtained the warrant by about 5 p.m. He returned to the trailer and, along with other officers, searched it. The officers found under the sofa a marijuana pipe, a box for marijuana (called a "one-hitter" box), and a small amount of marijuana. They then arrested Charles.


Illinois subsequently charged Charles McArthur with unlawfully possessing drug paraphernalia and marijuana (less than 2.5 grams), both misdemeanors. See Ill. Comp. Stat., ch. 720, §§ 550/4(a), 600/3.5(a) (1998). McArthur moved to suppress the pipe, box, and marijuana on the ground that they were the "fruit" of an unlawful police seizure, namely, the refusal to let him reenter the trailer unaccompanied, which would have permitted him, he said, to "have destroyed the marijuana." App. 27.

The trial court granted McArthur's suppression motion. The Appellate Court of Illinois affirmed, 304 Ill.App.3d

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395, 713 N.E.2d 93 (1999), and the Illinois Supreme Court denied the State's petition for leave to appeal, 185 Ill.2d 651, 720 N.E.2d 1101 (1999). We granted certiorari to determine whether the Fourth Amendment prohibits the kind of temporary seizure at issue here.



The Fourth Amendment says that the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated." U.S. Const., Amdt. 4. Its "central requirement" is one of reasonableness. See Texas v. Brown, 460 U.S. 730, 739 (1983). In order to enforce that requirement, this Court has interpreted the Amendment as establishing rules and presumptions designed to control conduct of law enforcement officers that may significantly intrude upon privacy interests. Sometimes those rules require warrants. We have said, for example, that in "the ordinary case," seizures of personal property are "unreasonable within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment," without more, "unless . . . accomplished pursuant to a judicial warrant," issued by a neutral magistrate after finding probable cause. United States v. Place, 462 U.S. 696, 701 (1983).

We nonetheless have made it clear that there are exceptions to the warrant requirement. When faced with special law enforcement needs, diminished expectations of privacy, minimal intrusions, or the like, the Court has found that certain general, or individual, circumstances may render a warrantless search or seizure reasonable. See, e. g., Pennsylvania v. Labron, 518 U.S. 938, 940-941 (1996) (per curiam) (search of automobile supported by probable cause); Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444, 455(1990) (suspicionless stops at drunk driver checkpoint); United States v. Place, supra, at 706 (temporary seizure of luggage based on reasonable suspicion); Michigan v.

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Summers, 452 U.S. 692, 702-705 (1981) (temporary detention of suspect without arrest warrant to prevent flight and protect officers while executing search warrant); Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 27 (1968) (temporary stop and limited search for weapons based on reasonable suspicion).

In the circumstances of the case before us, we cannot say that the warrantless seizure was per se unreasonable. It involves a plausible claim of specially pressing or urgent law enforcement need, i. e., "exigent circumstances." Cf., e. g., United States v. Place, supra, at 701 ("[T]he exigencies of the...

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