Protective Sweeps

Protective Sweep-A quick and limited search of premises to protect the safety of the police officers or others on the scene.

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Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325 (1990)-Police entered Buie's home to serve an arrest warrant for armed robbery. Buie was arrested as he exited his basement. The police did a protective sweep of the basement for officer's safety. Evidence was found in plain view. The USSC ruled that no warrant was required, and as an incident to the arrest the officers could, as a precautionary matter and without probable cause or reasonable suspicion, look in closets and other spaces immediately adjoining the place of arrest from which an attack could be launched. Reasonable suspicion is required to sweep beyond this limited area.

US v. Chaves, 169 F.3d 687 (11 Cir. 1999)-Officers cannot justify conducting a protective sweep for officer safety after waiting 45 minutes from the time of arrest before conducting the sweep.

US v. Gould,No. 02-30629 (5th Cir.)(2004)-Law enforcement officers, legally in a residence, but without a search or arrest warrant, can make a "protective sweep" of the residence if they have reasonable suspicion their safety is in jeopardy.

US v. Vargas, 376 F. 3d 112 (2 Cir 2004)-DEA agents contacted Vargas in his motel room. The talked with him for several minutes. The agents had no reasonable suspicion to believe they were in danger. One of the agents indicated to Vargas that he was going to open the ajar bathroom door. Vargas quickly shut the door and told the agents they could not use the bathroom. The agents searched the bathroom claiming a “protective sweep” exception. They found heroin in the bathtub. The lower court and Circuit Court suppressed the evidence. The agents were not conducting a sweep incident to arrest. There were no exigent circumstances, and Vargas unequivocally revoked consent to search the bathroom.

US v. Torres-Castro, 470 F.3d 992 (10th Cir., 2006)- Following Buie, we held that such "protective sweeps" are only permitted incident to an arrest. See United States v. Davis, 290 F.3d 1239, 1242 n. 4 (10th Cir. 2002) (rejecting an argument that protective sweeps should sometimes be permitted absent an arrest); United States v. Smith, 131 F.3d 1392, 1396 (10th Cir.1997) (noting that a protective sweep "is a brief search of premises during an arrest to ensure the safety of those on the scene"). In United States v. Garza, an unpublished disposition, we declined to extend the protective sweep doctrine to cases where there is no arrest. See 125 Fed.Appx. 927, 931 (10th Cir.2005) ("We have twice found that a protective sweep may only be performed incident to an arrest."). Garza made clear that based on this court's prior published cases of Davis and Smith, protective sweeps must be performed incident to an arrest.

*Note: There is a split in the courts about protective sweeps. Some courts limit protective sweeps for instances of arrest only, like the 10th Circuit Court. Other courts allow protective sweeps during non-arrest circumstances when the officers have reasonable suspicion that their safety is in jeopardy.

US v. Jones, 10–4442, 10–4698 (4th Cir 2012)-The Circuit Court held: "...the presence of the seven vehicles coupled with Officer Smith’s prior surveillance of known meth users patronizing the Jones residence.9 Faced with the possibility that there were other persons inside the house, there was ample reason to believe that such individuals could endanger the officers’ safety, in that the Joneses were involved in the production and distribution of meth; at least one of their patrons was known to carry a firearm; and a fugitive was reportedly staying in the residence."