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6th Circuit Clarifies the Bounds of Detention During Search

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on April 04, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In a recent case in the Sixth Circuit, the court upheld a lower district's decision to deny a motion to suppress evidence. The case, United States v. Binford, underscored the distinction between an arrest and a detention.

Detention or Arrest?

In brief terms, a Law Enforcement Officer's (LEO's) "brief and cursory" holding and questioning of someone is a detention, but is not an arrest. Typical examples include LEOs stopping people on the street to ask about recently transpired criminal activity nearby. The person being questioned is (theoretically) free to leave because there is neither reasonable suspicion not probable cause to hold him.

As soon as probable cause or reasonable suspicion arises, the LEO has the authority to detain the questioned person -- now a suspect. The real mark of arrest is the use of handcuffs and Miranda warnings.

Back to the Story

In the case at bar, detective Kinal made use of a confidential informant to make two purchases of marijuana from the defendant, Binford. The two purchases were watched, completed, and recorded. They were the basis of a search warrant to search Binford's home for drugs, firearms, and other contraband.

Kinal and other LEOs executed the warrant and forcibly entered Binford's residence soon afterwards. Kinal himself found Binford inside. Clad only in a towel, Kinal escorted Binford inside a bathroom. Binford started talking, but Kinal asked him to stop talking so that he could be read his Miranda warnings.

Binford signed a waiver of his Miranda rights knowingly, voluntarily and willingly as determined by the Sixth Circuit. But further issues were raised as to the nature of his being in the bathroom with Kinal. During the 15-20 minute encounter, Binford made a number of incriminating statements about his drug buying and possession of weapons. A court later determined that contraband found according to the search should be admitted.

Details, Details ...

The courts (including the Sixth Circuit later) did not buy Binford's argument that the search violated his Fourth Amendment rights or that Kinal had no authority to question him in the bathroom.

The key case was Michigan v. Summers. In that case, SCOTUS held that during the execution of a search warrant for contraband, LEOs have limited authority to detain occupants on the premises while the search is conducted. Summers' later progeny (US v. Fountain) also clarified two key points that found in favor of the state. Whether a detention was supported by probable cause concurrently, and whether or not the detention prolonged the search.

Concurrent "Reasonable Suspicion"

The Fountain case was used by Binford who argued that Kinal had to "reasonable suspicion" to justify a detention that was greater than was justified by the purpose of the warrant. Binford essentially argued that the contents of the house found at the time of his detention did not justify Kinal's keeping him so long.

The Sixth Circuit determined that Binford misconstrued the law. The search warrant was based on observations of Binford selling drugs twice to informants months before. And under Summers, a brief detention was perfectly lawful.

"A Discrete Fourth Amendment Event"

It turns out that under another case related to Summers, brief detentions by LEOs during the execution of a search warrant do not create a "discrete Fourth Amendment" event as long as the questioning does not prolong the search. See Muehler.

Thus, the search was supported by probable cause because of the drug sales. The detention was lawful under Summers because the facts seemed to support that Kinal acted within his "limited authority" under Summers. And even if he did not have probable cause, a detention that did not prolong a valid search warrant was still permissible under Muehler.

This all appears more complicated than it really is. These Supreme Court cases simply extend the common sense application of the underlying purpose of Miranda: balance of individual privacy and state interests in finding criminal activity.

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