Law School Case Brief
L.A. Cty. v. Rettele - 550 U.S. 609, 127 S. Ct. 1989 (2007)
In executing a search warrant officers may take reasonable action to secure the premises and to ensure their own safety and the efficacy of the search. The test of reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment is an objective one. Unreasonable actions include the use of excessive force or restraints that cause unnecessary pain or are imposed for a prolonged and unnecessary period of time.
Residents recently purchased the home and asserted that, although they were not the same race as the suspects being sought under a search warrant, sheriff's deputies ordered the residents to get out of their bed and remain unclothed until the deputies determined that the suspects were not present. Respondent residents brought an action against petitioners deputies, alleging that the deputies unreasonably executed a search warrant for suspects who formerly lived at the home. Upon appellate review, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the deputies' conduct was unreasonable. The deputies petitioned the United States Supreme Court for certiorari review.
Were there violations of Fourth Amendment rights when the authorities detained the respondent residents in their home despite the fact their race differed from the race of the suspects identified in the search warrant?
The Supreme Court held that the execution of the properly issued warrant by the deputies was not unreasonable. Regardless of the difference in race, when the residents were ordered from their bed, the deputies had no way of knowing whether the suspects were elsewhere in the home. Further, one of the suspects was reported to be armed, and the deputies were justified in ordering the residents from the bed, and refusing to allow them to dress for a brief period, in order to insure that no weapons were concealed in the bedding or elsewhere. The orders by the police to the occupants, in the context of this lawful search, were permissible, and perhaps necessary, to protect the safety of the deputies. Blankets and bedding can conceal a weapon, and one of the suspects was known to own a firearm, factors which underscore this point. The Constitution does not require an officer to ignore the possibility that an armed suspect may sleep with a weapon within reach. Reports are replete with accounts of suspects sleeping close to weapons.
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