Criminal Procedure, Pages 243–246

Maryland v. Buie

Supreme Court of the United States, 1990


Arrest warrants were issued for defendant and an accomplice for the robbery of a pizza restaurant, where one of the robbers was wearing a red jumpsuit. Police called defendant's home, and his wife told them that he was home. Police then went to the house to arrest defendant. One officer went to the top of the basement stairs and yelled for defendant to come out. Defendant did so, but an officer went down anyway to make sure no one else was down there. No one was found, but a red jumpsuit was found and seized.

Procedural History:

  • Defendant was convicted after the trial court denied defendant's motion to suppress the running suit, holding that it was proper for police to enter the basement to ensure that there was not anyone down there who could pose a threat.

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    The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland affirmed the trial court's denial of the suppression motion. The court stated that Detective Frolich did not go into the basement to search for evidence, but to look for the suspected accomplice or anyone else who might pose a threat to the officers on the scene.

  • The court of appeals reversed, stating that the home was too sacred to justify a protective sweep without probable cause to believe that "'"a serious and demonstrable potentiality for danger"' exists."


What determines when police can conduct protective sweeps?


The risk of danger to an arresting officer in someone's home is as great or greater than investigating someone on the street. It is the arrestee's turf and there are many unknowns to police. Officers should be able to look in closets as a precautionary matter without probable cause, and articulable facts giving rise to a reasonable belief that an area harbors a dangerous individual justify searching any such location. The standard used by the court of appeals was too high.


To conduct a protective sweep, an officer must only have "a reasonable belief based on specific and articulable facts that the area to be swept harbors an individual posing a danger to those on the arrest scene."

Dissenting Opinion:

Brennan: The danger in arresting someone in their home is not as great as as the danger in talking to someone on the street, so it should not justify extending the standard from Terry into the home. This is not a "minimally intrusive" search like was in Terry, and it undervalues one's privacy interest in his home. Such an exception would allow police to see virtually everything in someone's home.