Recent Fourth Amendment Decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court

The law regarding the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, is constantly changing. A warrant, which should be limited in scope and based on probable cause, is normally required to conduct a search of an individual’s person, home, papers and effects. However, there are several exceptions to this warrant requirement, including:

  • Exigent circumstances, such as evidence in danger of being destroyed or a suspect being pursued, exist.
  • During a lawful stop and frisk, which is supposed to be a brief detention to investigate suspicious conduct, an officer pats down an individual for weapons.
  • The search is incident to a lawful arrest.
  • The person consents to the search.
  • Incriminating items are in plain view.
  • The search is part of a routine inventory process incident to incarceration or vehicle impoundment.    

The U.S. Supreme Court issued guidance regarding the Fourth Amendment during its recent term:

  • Florida v. Harris: The court held that if the police provide evidence of a drug-sniffing dog’s reliable performance in a certification or training program, the Court considers the dog’s alert as probable cause to search a vehicle.
  • Florida v. Jardines: In another dog sniff case argued on the same day, the court ruled that a dog sniff on the porch of a house where police suspected drugs were being grown constituted a search, which requires probable cause and a warrant, absent any of the warrant exceptions.
  • Bailey v. United States: Law enforcement personnel executing a search warrant are allowed to detain the occupants of the premises while a search is being conducted, as long as that is limited to the immediate vicinity of the premises. If a recent occupant of the premises is detained beyond that vicinity, it is an unlawful seizure. In this case, Bailey was detained about a mile from his home, which is clearly beyond the immediate vicinity of his home.