7th Circuit extends search, detainment precedent

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More than two decades ago, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals said that a higher precedent allowed not only residents of a home being searched to be detained, but also that visitors to that location could be detained.

With a ruling today, the federal appeals court has extended that precedent to someone who’s left the residence before the search begins, but is suspected of being criminally involved in the activity at that home and is pulled over and detained during the search.

The 39-page opinion authored by U.S. Judge John Tinder in the case of  United States of America v. Derrick L. Bullock, No. 10-2238, comes from the Northern District of Indiana.

Bullock was pulled over in Fort Wayne and detained while police searched a residence he’d been visiting. Police then arrested him for visiting a common nuisance under Indiana law after finding marijuana and crack cocaine and evidence of recurrent, widespread drug activity within the residence. Bullock pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute 5-50 grams of cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), conditioned on his ability to appeal a ruling by Judge Theresa L. Springmann that denied his motion to suppress the evidence that led to his conviction.

Bullock argued that police didn’t have reasonable suspicion to pull him over a few blocks from the residence he’d been visiting where the drugs were found, nor that he should have been detained during the search. But the 7th Circuit disagreed, finding probable cause and justification under both the landmark case Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968) and Michigan v. Summers, 452 U.S. 692 (1981) which extended the momentary detainment to a resident. Police handcuffed and put Bullock in a patrol car for 30 to 40 minutes and transported him to the scene. The federal appeals judges found that reasonable since police didn’t question or “abuse” Bullock during that detainment.

Noting that it had extended Summers to visitors at a residence in the case of U.S. v. Pace, 898 F. 2d 1218, 1239 (7th Cir. 1990), the panel looked to other Circuits that have extended it further in this case and allowed for Bullock to be detained because of his history and suspected involvement. Some Circuits haven’t extended the higher precedent to these types of circumstances, but the panel found this case warrants it.

Judge Tinder wrote that the officers’ interests in detaining Bullock during the search were not outweighed by the rather limited intrusion on his freedom. The panel also noted that police had probable cause to arrest Bullock as they did, because drugs were visible.

“As the District court found, a common-sense view of the everyday realities of life would lead officers to reasonably believe that Bullock was aware that drug use had occurred inside the residence, and there was evidence that it occurred on more than one occasion,” Judge Tinder wrote. “While the officers could not have been certain that Bullock was aware of the marijuana in the dining room or other evidence of drug activity found in the residence, they had probable cause to believe so based on Bullock’s presence in the house that day and his prior association with the residence that led officers to obtain a search warrant for the premises.”


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