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High Court Sides With Police
Suspects can be barred from own home during search process
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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 today that police officers can bar suspects from entering their own residence while authorities acquire a search warrant.

The Court ruled temporary seizure of a premises, given the nature of the intrusion and the interest of law enforcement involved, was constitutionally permissible.

Civil liberties groups criticize the ruling as a further reduction of the constitutional guarantees of privacy, and protection from unreasonable searches and seizures found in the Fourth Amendment.

The case grew out a 1997 domestic incident in which Sullivan, Illinois police were asked to protect a woman while she removed her belonging from a mobile home where she lived with her husband.

At some point, the woman informed police that her husband had hidden a quantity of marijuana under the sofa.

When an officer spoke to him, the husband stepped outside, where he refused to allow the officer to search the house. The officer's partner then left the scene to get a search warrant.

When the husband said he was going back inside the house, the remaining officer told him he could not reenter the house unless he (the police officer) went with him.

The husband then proceeded to go in and out of the house several times while the officer stood just inside the doorway to observe his actions.

Two hours later, now with a warrant, officers searched the home and found the marijuana and other drug paraphernalia. The husband was charged with possession of less than 2.5 grams of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, both misdemeanors.

At trial, lawyers for the defendant moved that the marijuana and drug paraphernalia not be allowed as evidence on the grounds that they were the "fruit" of an unconstitutional police seizure. The Illinois trial court agreed and the evidence was thrown out. After the Illinois State Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's decision, the State of Illinois appealed to the Supreme Court.

In the court's 8-1 majority opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer found that police had probable cause to believe the home contained evidence of a crime and had good reason to believe the evidence would be destroyed if they allowed the husband to reenter the home alone.

"And they imposed a restraint that was both limited and tailored reasonably to secure law enforcement needs while protecting privacy interests," wrote Breyer.

The only dissenting opinion was from Justice John Paul Stevens who wrote that he would uphold the Illinois trial court, "who placed a higher value on the sanctity of the ordinary citizen's home than on the prosecution of this petty offense." 

The case was Illinois v. McArthur - No. 99-1132, and was argued before the Supreme Court on Nov. 1, 2000.


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