Two men committed armed robbery in a restaurant. One of the robbers wore a red running suit. The government obtained arrest warrants for the defendant and his suspected accomplice and went to his house to serve them. Once inside, the officers fanned out. One of the officers found the defendant in the basement and ordered him out, whereupon he was arrested, searched and handcuffed. Following the defendant’s arrest, another officer entered the basement “in case there was someone else down there.” While in the basement, he saw a red running suit on a stack of clothing and seized it. The red running suit was introduced into evidence against the defendant.
Whether the Fourth Amendment permits officers, when effecting the arrest of a suspect in his home, to conduct a warrantless protective sweep of the premises?
Yes. A limited protective sweep, in conjunction with an in-home arrest, is permitted when the searching officer possesses a reasonable belief that the area to be swept harbors an individual posing a danger to those on the arrest scene.
As an incident to an arrest, police officers may, as a precautionary matter and without probable cause or reasonable suspicion, look inside closets or other spaces immediately adjoining the place of arrest from which an attack could be launched. Beyond that, however, there must be articulable facts that would warrant a reasonably prudent officer in believing that the area to be swept harbors an individual posing a danger.
A “protective sweep” is a quick and limited search of a premises, incident to an arrest and conducted to protect the safety of the officers or others. Protective sweeps are not automatically permitted. They are also not full searches of the premises, but extend only to a cursory inspection of those spaces where a person may be found as justified by the circumstances. A sweep may last no longer than is necessary to dispel the reasonable suspicion of danger, and in any event, no longer than it takes to complete the arrest and depart the premises.
In this case, possessing an arrest warrant and probable cause to believe that the defendant was in his home, the officers were entitled to search anywhere in the house, including the basement, in which he might be found. However, once the defendant was found, that search for him ceased, and there was no longer justification for entering any rooms that had not been searched. Nevertheless, the government had an interest in taking steps to assure themselves that the defendant’s house was not harboring other people who were dangerous and could unexpectedly launch an attack. The second officer did not go into the basement to search for evidence, but rather to look for the suspected accomplice or anyone else who might pose a threat to the officers. The interest in ensuring the officer’s safety was sufficient to outweigh the intrusion this procedure entailed.
494 U.S. 325, 110 S. Ct. 1093 (1990)