Muehler v. Mena

United States Supreme Court


No. 03–1423

544 U.S. 93


[March 22, 2005]


CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of theCourt.

Respondent Iris Mena was detained in handcuffs duringa search of the premises that she and several others occupied. Petitioners were lead members of a police detachment executing a search warrant of these premises. She sued the officers under Rev. Stat. §1979, 42 U. S. C. §1983, and the District Court found in her favor. The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment, holding that the use ofhandcuffs to detain Mena during the search violated theFourth Amendment and that the officers’ questioning of Mena about her immigration status during the detention constituted an independent Fourth Amendment violation. Mena v. Simi Valley, 332 F. 3d 1255 (CA9 2003). We hold that Mena’s detention in handcuffs for the length of the search was consistent with our opinion in Michigan v. Summers, 452 U. S. 692 (1981), and that the officers’ questioning during that detention did not violate her Fourth Amendment rights.

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* * * Based on information gleaned from the investigation of a gang-related, driveby shooting, petitioners Muehler and Brill had reason to believe at least one member of a gang—the West Side Locos—lived at 1363 Patricia Avenue. They also suspected that the individual was armed and dangerous, since he had recently been involved in thedriveby shooting. As a result, Muehler obtained a search warrant for 1363 Patricia Avenue that authorized a broad search of the house and premises for, among other things, deadly weapons and evidence of gang membership. In light of the high degree of risk involved in searching a house suspected of housing at least one, and perhapsmultiple, armed gang members, a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team was used to secure the residence andgrounds before the search.

At 7 a.m. on February 3, 1998, petitioners, along with theSWAT team and other officers, executed the warrant. Mena was asleep in her bed when the SWAT team, clad in helmets and black vests adorned with badges and the word “POLICE,” entered her bedroom and placed her in handcuffs at gunpoint. The SWAT team also handcuffed three other individuals found on the property. The SWAT team then took those individuals and Mena into a converted garage, which contained several beds and some other bedroom furniture. While the search proceeded, one or two officers guarded the four detainees, who were allowed tomove around the garage but remained in handcuffs.

Aware that the West Side Locos gang was composedprimarily of illegal immigrants, the officers had notified the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) thatthey would be conducting the search, and an INS officer accompanied the officers executing the warrant. Duringtheir detention in the garage, an officer asked for each detainee’s name, date of birth, place of birth, and immigration status. The INS officer later asked the detainees for their immigration documentation. Mena’s status as a permanent resident was confirmed by her papers.

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The search of the premises yielded a .22 caliber handgun with .22 caliber ammunition, a box of .25 caliber ammunition, several baseball bats with gang writing, various additional gang paraphernalia, and a bag of marijuana. Before the officers left the area, Mena was released.

In her §1983 suit against the officers she alleged thatshe was detained “for an unreasonable time and in an unreasonable manner” in violation of the Fourth Amendment. App. 19. In addition, she claimed that the warrant and its execution were overbroad, that the officers failed to comply with the “knock and announce” rule, and that theofficers had needlessly destroyed property during thesearch. The officers moved for summary judgment, asserting that they were entitled to qualified immunity, but theDistrict Court denied their motion. The Court of Appealsaffirmed that denial, except for Mena’s claim that the warrant was overbroad; on this claim the Court of Appealsheld that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity. Mena v. Simi Valley, 226 F. 3d 1031 (CA9 2000). After a trial, a jury, pursuant to a special verdict form, found thatOfficers Muehler and Brill violated Mena’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures by detaining her both with force greater than that which was reasonable and for a longer period than that which was reasonable. The jury awarded Mena $10,000 in actualdamages and $20,000 in punitive damages against eachpetitioner for a total of $60,000.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment on twogrounds. 332 F. 3d 1255 (CA9 2003). Reviewing the denial of qualified immunity de novo, id., at 1261, n. 2, it first held that the officers’ detention of Mena violated the Fourth Amendment because it was objectively unreasonable to confine her in the converted garage and keep her in handcuffs during the search, id., at 1263–1264. In the Court of Appeals’ view, the officers should have released

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Mena as soon as it became clear that she posed no immediate threat. Id., at 1263. The court additionally heldthat the questioning of Mena about her immigration status constituted an independent Fourth Amendment violation. Id., at 1264–1266. The Court of Appeals went on to hold that those rights were clearly established at thetime of Mena’s questioning, and thus the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity. Id., at 1266–1267. We granted certiorari, 542 U. S. ___ (2004), and now vacateand remand.

* * * In Michigan v. Summers, 452 U. S. 692 (1981), we held that officers executing a search warrant for contraband have the authority “to detain the occupants of the premises while a proper search is conducted.” Id., at 705. Such detentions are appropriate, we explained, because the character of the additional intrusion caused by detentionis slight and because the justifications for detention are substantial. Id., at 701–705. We made clear that the detention of an occupant is “surely less intrusive than thesearch itself,” and the presence of a warrant assures that a neutral magistrate has determined that probable cause exists to search the home. Id., at 701. Against this incremental intrusion, we posited three legitimate law enforcement interests that provide substantial justification for detaining an occupant: “preventing flight in the event that incriminating evidence is found”; “minimizing therisk of harm to the officers”; and facilitating “the orderly completion of the search,” as detainees’ “self-interest may induce them to open locked doors or locked containers toavoid the use of force.” Id., at 702–703. Mena’s detention was, under Summers, plainly permissible.1 An officer’s authority to detain incident to a search

—————— 1In determining whether a Fourth Amendment violation occurred we

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is categorical; it does not depend on the “quantum of proof justifying detention or the extent of the intrusion to be imposed by the seizure.” Id., at 705, n. 19. Thus, Mena’s detention for the duration of the search was reasonable under Summers because a warrant existed to search 1363 Patricia Avenue and she was an occupant of that addressat the time of the search.

Inherent in Summers’ authorization to detain an occupant of the place to be searched is the authority to use reasonable force to effectuate the detention. See Graham

v. Connor, 490 U. S. 386, 396 (1989) (“Fourth Amendment jurisprudence has long recognized that the right to make an arrest or investigatory stop necessarily carries with itthe right to use some degree of physical coercion or threat thereof to effect it”). Indeed, Summers itself stressed that the risk of harm to officers and occupants is minimized “ifthe officers routinely exercise unquestioned command of the situation.” 452 U. S., at 703.

The officers’ use of force in the form of handcuffs to effectuate Mena’s detention in the garage, as well as thedetention of the three other occupants, was reasonable because the governmental interests outweigh the marginalintrusion. See Graham, supra, at 396–397. The imposition of correctly applied handcuffs on Mena, who was already being lawfully detained during a search of the house, was undoubtedly a separate intrusion in addition todetention in the converted garage.2 The detention was

—————— draw all reasonable factual inferences in favor of the jury verdict, but as we made clear in Ornelas v. United States, 517 U. S. 690, 697–699 (1996), we do not defer to the jury’s legal conclusion that those facts violate the Constitution. 2In finding the officers should have released Mena from the handcuffs, the Court of Appeals improperly relied upon the fact that thewarrant did not include Mena as a suspect. See Mena v. Simi Valley, 332 F. 3d 1255, 1263, n. 5 (CA9 2003). The warrant was concerned not with individuals but with locations and property. In particular, thewarrant in this case authorized the search of 1363 Patricia Avenue and

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thus more intrusive than that which we upheld in Summers. See 452 U. S., at 701–702 (concluding that the additional intrusion in the form of a detention was less than that of the warrant-sanctioned search); Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U. S. 408, 413–414 (1997) (concluding that the additional intrusion from ordering passengers out of a car, which was already stopped, was minimal).

But this was no ordinary search. The governmentalinterests in not only detaining, but using handcuffs, are at their maximum when, as here, a warrant authorizes a search for weapons and a wanted gang member resides on the premises. In such inherently dangerous situations, the use of handcuffs minimizes the risk of harm to both officers and occupants. Cf. Summers, supra, at 702–703 (recognizing the execution of a warrant to search for drugs“may give rise to sudden violence or frantic efforts toconceal or destroy evidence”). Though this safety riskinherent in executing a search warrant for weapons was sufficient to justify the use of handcuffs, the need to detain multiple occupants made the use of handcuffs all the morereasonable. Cf. Maryland v. Wilson, supra, at 414 (noting that “danger to an officer from a traffic stop is likely to be greater when there are passengers in addition to the driver in the stopped car”).

Mena argues that, even if the use of handcuffs to detainher in the garage was reasonable as an initial matter, the —————— its surrounding grounds for, among other things, deadly weapons and evidence of street gang membership. In this respect, the warrant here resembles that at issue in Michigan v. Summers, 452 U. S. 692 (1981), which allowed the search of a residence for drugs without mentioning any individual, including the owner of the home whom police ultimately arrested. See People v. Summers, 407 Mich. 432, 440–443, 286 N. W. 2d 226, 226–227 (1979), rev’d, Michigan v. Summers, supra. Summers makes clear that when a neutral magistrate has determined police haveprobable cause to believe contraband exists, “[t]he connection of an occupant to [a] home” alone “justifies a detention of that occupant.” 452

U. S., at 703–704.

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duration of the use of handcuffs made the detention unreasonable. The duration of a detention can, of course, affect the balance of interests under Graham. However, the 2- to 3- hour detention in handcuffs in this case does not outweigh the government’s continuing safety interests. As we have noted, this case involved the detention of four detainees by two officers during a search of a gang house for dangerous weapons. We conclude that the detention of Mena in handcuffs during the search was reasonable.

The Court of Appeals also determined that the officers violated Mena’s Fourth Amendment rights by questioningher about her immigration status during the detention. 332 F. 3d, at 1264–1266. This holding, it appears, was premised on the assumption that the officers were required to have independent reasonable suspicion in order to question Mena concerning her immigration statusbecause the questioning constituted a discrete Fourth Amendment event. But the premise is faulty. We have “held repeatedly that mere police questioning does notconstitute a seizure.” Florida v. Bostick, 501 U. S. 429, 434 (1991); see also INS v. Delgado, 466 U. S. 210, 212 (1984). “[E]ven when officers have no basis for suspecting a particular individual, they may generally ask questions of that individual; ask to examine the individual’s identification; and request consent to search his or her luggage.” Bostick, supra, at 434–435 (citations omitted). As the Court of Appeals did not hold that the detention was prolonged by the questioning, there was no additional seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.Hence, the officers did not need reasonable suspicion toask Mena for her name, date and place of birth, or immigration status.

Our recent opinion in Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U. S. ___ (2005), is instructive. There, we held that a dog sniff performed during a traffic stop does not violate the FourthAmendment. We noted that a lawful seizure “can become

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unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonablyrequired to complete that mission,” but accepted the state court’s determination that the duration of the stop was not extended by the dog sniff. Id., at ___ (slip op., at 2–3). Because we held that a dog sniff was not a search subject to the Fourth Amendment, we rejected the notion that“the shift in purpose” “from a lawful traffic stop into adrug investigation” was unlawful because it “was not supported by any reasonable suspicion.” Id., at ___ (slip op., at 3–4). Likewise here, the initial Summers detention was lawful; the Court of Appeals did not find that the questioning extended the time Mena was detained. Thus no additional Fourth Amendment justification for inquiring about Mena’s immigration status was required.3

In summary, the officers’ detention of Mena in handcuffs during the execution of the search warrant was reasonable and did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Additionally, the officers’ questioning of Mena did not constitute an independent Fourth Amendment violation. Mena has advanced in this Court, as she did before the Court of Appeals, an alternative argument for affirming the judgment below. She asserts that her detention extended beyond the time the police completed the tasksincident to the search. Because the Court of Appeals didnot address this contention, we too decline to address it.

—————— 3The Court of Appeals’ reliance on United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422

U. S. 873 (1975), is misplaced. Brignoni-Ponce held that stops by rovingpatrols near the border “may be justified on facts that do not amount to the probable cause require[ment] for an arrest.” Id., at 880. We considered only whether the patrols had the “authority to stop automobiles in areas near the Mexican border,” id., at 874 (emphasis added), and expressed no opinion as to the appropriateness of questioning whenan individual was already seized. See United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U. S. 543, 556–562 (1976). We certainly did not, as the Court of Appeals suggested, create a “requirement of particularized reasonable suspicion for purposes of inquiry into citizenship status.” 332 F. 3d, at 1267.

See Pierce County v. Guillen, 537 U. S. 129, 148, n. 10 (2003); National Collegiate Athletic Assn. v. Smith, 525
U. S. 459, 469–470 (1999).

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is therefore vacated, and the case is remanded for further proceedingsconsistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.