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The US Supreme Court on Tuesday limited the ability of police to detain a suspect who has left a site that officers have come to search, even if they find potentially incriminating evidence.
The case involves Chunon Bailey, a man from Long Island, New York who was sentenced to 30 years in prison on drug and weapons charges.
Police had Bailey's apartment under surveillance, and followed Bailey on July 28, 2005 when he left the apartment.
Officers detained him about a mile (1.6 kilometers) from his residence and interrogated for ten minutes while fellow officers searched his home, where they found weapons, ammunition and drugs.
Bailey was then arrested, and later sentenced to 30 years prison.
Attorneys for Bailey argue that police violated their client's rights under the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures.
In a six-three decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Bailey "posed little risk to the officers at the scene after he left the premises, apparently without knowledge of the search."
Had Bailey returned, "he could have been apprehended and detained," read the ruling.
In 1981, the Supreme Court ruled in Michigan v. Summers that police could detain people without suspicion during a search in order to prevent them from harming officers.
In that case the justices held that detention is not justified "beyond the immediate vicinity of the premises to be searched."