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Payton v. New York


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445 U.S. 573 (1980), argued 26 Mar. 1979, reargued 9 Oct. 1979, decided 15 Apr. 1980 by vote of 6 to 3; Stevens for the Court, Blackmun concurring, Burger, Rehnquist, and White in dissent. Payton resolved a longstanding open question: whether the Fourth Amendment prohibits the police from making a warrantless nonconsensual entry into a suspect's home in order to accomplish a routine felony arrest. Noting the well-established rule that a nonconsensual warrantless entry of private premises to search for evidence is presumptively unreasonable, the Court concluded the same should be true of an arrest entry, for both types of entries “implicate the same interest in preserving the privacy and the sanctity of the home” (p. 588). Thus a warrant is needed for an arrest entry unless there are “exigent circumstances.”

Though some have argued that a search warrant should be necessary for an arrest entry because it would require a judicial officer to focus on the question of whether the wanted person was probably in the specific premises to be entered, the Court in Payton required only an arrest warrant (and thus only an advance judicial determination of grounds to arrest). But in Steagald v. United States (1981), the Court ruled that in the case of entry of premises to arrest a guest a search warrant would be necessary absent exigent circumstances, for in such circumstances it is important to protect the resident's privacy by a preentry judicial determination that the person to be arrested is probably there.

One “exigent circumstance” is where the police are in hot pursuit of the person to be arrested. Beyond that, lower courts often use a difficult-to-apply test that takes into account the magnitude of the crime, the likelihood that the person is armed, the strength of the probable cause to arrest, the likelihood that the person is within, the likelihood of escape absent immediate arrest, whether the entry is peaceable, and whether the entry is at night. In Welsh v. Wisconsin (1984), the Court declined to give express approval to all these factors but, stressing the absence of the first, held that police could not enter a home without a warrant to arrest a person who had minutes earlier been engaged in the civil forfeiture offense of driving while intoxicated. The Court seems to have given insufficient attention to another reason why immediate warrantless entry to arrest is sometimes necessary: to prevent the loss of evidence (in Welsh, the defendant's blood-alcohol level).

In Wilson v. Arkansas (1995), the justices provided further guidance on such matters, holding that while police are ordinarily required to knock and announce their presence before entering a house to execute a search warrant, there may be “reasonable” exceptions to the rule to account for a likelihood of violence or imminent destruction of evidence.

Wayne R. LaFave

Subjects: Law.


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