2 minute read

United States v. Santana

Search And Seizure

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution prohibits unreasonable search and seizure of individuals and their property. The Amendment defines reasonable searches and seizures as those which are conducted under legal warrant issued due to the existence of probable cause that wrongdoing will be uncovered by them. Throughout its history, the Supreme Court has wavered in its interpretation of the Fourth Amendment. This wavering has centered around a fundamental question: are only searches and seizures conducted under legal warrants admissible, or are there some occasions when a search or seizure may be undertaken without a warrant. During the decade of the 1970s, the Court considered this issue on several occasions, and established precedents which were applied to its ruling in United States v. Santana.

The Court handed down its decision in the case on 24 June 1976, reversing the lower court rulings and holding that the actions of the Philadelphia police were legal and the evidence obtained in the raid against Santana was admissible in court. Justice Rehnquist, writing for the majority, identified two questions as being crucial to the Court's view of the case. The Court considered if Santana was in a public place when the police attempted to arrest her and if were the police were justified in following Santana into her home to achieve her arrest. With regard to the first question, the Court relied on its rulings in United States v. Watson and Katz v. United States, as precedents. In Watson the Court ruled that a warrantless arrest of a person in a public area, given the existence of probable cause, did not violate the Fourth Amendment. In Katz, the Court held that "what a person knowingly exposes in public, even in his own house or office, is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection." In the Court's opinion Santana, by standing in her doorway where she was as "exposed to public view, speech, hearing, and touch as if she had been standing completely outside her house," had been in a public place when the police began their attempt to apprehend her. This view also answered the second question, in that Santana's retirement into her house constituted an attempt to flee police pursuit, making the entry by the police into her house legally admissible as a result of their "hot pursuit" of a fleeing suspect. The right of police to pursue suspects into their homes, given probable cause, had been established by the Court in Warden, Maryland Penitentiary v. Hayden (1967). The Court did not question the existence of probable cause for police action in the case. In summarizing the majority opinion, Justice Rehnquist stated: "a suspect may not defeat an arrest which has been set in motion in a public place, and is therefore proper under Watson, by the expedient of escaping to a private place." The dissenting justices in the case did not dispute the issue of the existence of probable cause, and only mildly disagreed with the majority's opinion that Santana had been in a public place when the attempt to arrest her began. Instead, they were troubled by the possibility that the police were really seeking to arrest Santana from the start, and merely used McCafferty's heroin purchase as a ruse to establish circumstances under which a warrantless search and seizure would be possible.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980United States v. Santana - Significance, A Drug Bust, Charges And Preliminary Trials, Search And Seizure, Impact