Law School Case Brief
Illinois v. McArthur - 531 U.S. 326, 121 S. Ct. 946 (2001)
There are exceptions to the warrant requirement. When faced with special law enforcement needs, diminished expectations of privacy, minimal intrusions, or the like, the United States Supreme Court has found that certain general, or individual, circumstances may render a warrantless search or seizure reasonable.
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.
Was the restraint on McArthur from entering his home unaccompanied by an officer for about two hours while the police obtained a search warrant lawful?
The United States Supreme Court found that the warrantless seizure was not per se unreasonable, since it involved exigent circumstances, and the restraint at issue was tailored, avoiding significant intrusion into the home itself. Consequently, the court balanced the privacy-related and law enforcement-related concerns to determine if the intrusion was reasonable. The court concluded that the restriction at issue was reasonable, and hence lawful. Police had probable cause to believe defendant's home contained unlawful drugs, and had good reason to fear that, unless restrained, defendant would destroy the drugs before they could return with a warrant. Also, police made reasonable efforts to reconcile their law enforcement needs with the demands of personal privacy, and they imposed the restraint for a limited period of time, two hours. Given the nature of the intrusion and the law enforcement interest at stake, the brief seizure of the premises was permissible. Moreover, the court found significant support in its case law, and was not persuaded by the countervailing considerations raised by the parties and lower courts.
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