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Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325 (1990)


Following a Maryland armed robbery by two men, one of whom was wearing a red running suit, police obtained arrest warrants for respondent Buie and his suspected accomplice and executed the warrant for Buie at his house. After Buie was arrested upon emerging from the basement, one of the officers entered the basement “in case there was someone else” there and seized a red running suit lying in plain view. The trial court denied Buie’s motion to suppress the running suit, the suit was introduced into evidence, and Buie was convicted of armed robbery and a weapons offense. The intermediate appellate court affirmed the denial of the suppression motion, but the State Court of Appeals reversed, ruling that the running suit was inadmissible because the officer who conducted the “protective sweep” of the basement did not have probable cause to believe that a serious and demonstrable potentiality for danger existed.

Held: The Fourth Amendment permits a properly limited protective sweep in conjunction with an in-home arrest when the searching officer possesses a reasonable belief based on specific and articulable 

Page 494 U. S. 326

facts that the area to be swept harbors an individual posing a danger to those on the arrest scene.  Michigan v. Long, 463 U. S. 1032,  463 U. S. 1049-1050; Terry v. Ohio, 392 U. S. 1,  392 U. S. 21. Pp.  494 U. S. 330-337.

(a) In holding that, respectively, an on-the-street “frisk” and a roadside search of an automobile’s passenger compartment were reasonable despite the absence of a warrant or probable cause, Terry and Longbalanced the Fourth Amendment interests of the persons with whom they were dealing against the immediate interests of the police in protecting themselves from the danger posed by hidden weapons. Here, the police had an analogous interest in taking steps to assure themselves that Buie’s house was not harboring other person’s who were dangerous and who could unexpectedly launch an attack, and the fact that Buie had an expectation of privacy in rooms that were not examined by the police prior to the arrest does not mean that such rooms were immune from entry. No warrant was required, and as an incident to the arrest the officers could, as a precautionary matter and without probable cause or reasonable suspicion, look in closets and other spaces immediately adjoining the place of arrest from which an attack could be launched. Beyond that, however, just as in Terry and Long, there must be articulable facts which, taken together with the rational inferences from those facts, would warrant a reasonably prudent officer in believing that the area to be swept harbors an individual posing a danger. Such a protective sweep is not a full search of the premises, but may extend only to a cursory inspection of those spaces where a person may be found. The sweep lasts 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. Pp.  494 U. S. 331-336.

(b) Chimel v. California, 395 U. S. 752 — which held that, in the absence of a search warrant, the justifiable search incident to an in-home arrest could not extend beyond the arrestee’s person and the area from within which he might have obtained a weapon — is distinguished. First, Chimel was concerned with a full-blown, top-to-bottom search of an entire house for evidence of the crime for which the arrest was made, not the more limited intrusion contemplated by a protective sweep. Second, the justification for the search incident to arrest in Chimel was the threat posed by the arrestee, not the safety threat posed by the house, or more properly by unseen third parties in the house. P.  494 U. S. 336.

(c) The Court of Appeals applied an unnecessarily strict Fourth Amendment standard in requiring a protective sweep to be justified by probable cause. The case is remanded for application of the proper standard. Pp.  494 U. S. 336-337.

314 Md. 151, 550 A.2d 79, vacated and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and BLACKMUN, STEVENS, O’CONNOR, SCALIA, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., post, p.  494 U. S. 337, and KENNEDY, J., post, p. 494 U. S. 339, filed concurring opinions. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p.  494 U. S. 339. 

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