Maryland v. Buie

Following is the case brief for Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325 (1990)

Case Summary of Maryland v. Buie:

  • Respondent Buie emerged from his basement while officers were executing an arrest warrant for him in his home.  After Buie’s arrest, an officer conducted a protective sweep of the basement and found incriminating evidence in plain view.
  • The plain view evidence was not suppressed.  A jury convicted Buie of robbery and other offenses.
  • On appeal, Maryland’s highest court reversed the denial of suppression.  The court found no probable cause for the protective sweep.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court vacated and remanded.  It held that if an officer has reasonable suspicion to believe a dangerous person is hiding in a home following an in-home arrest, the officer may conduct a protective sweep for his safety.

Maryland v. Buie Case Brief

Statement of the Facts:

Two men, one wearing a red running suit, robbed a Godfather’s Pizza restaurant in Maryland. Police obtained arrest warrants for respondent Buie and a supposed accomplice.  Two days later, the police executed the warrant for Buie at his house.  The officer who approached the basement announced his presence.  In response, Buie emerged from the basement and was arrested.  Another officer then went into the basement to make sure no one else was there. While in the basement, the officer saw a red running suit in plain view and seized it.

Procedural History:

  • Buie moved to suppress the red running suit at trial.  The trial court denied the motion.  Following a trial, the jury found Buie guilty of robbery with a deadly weapon, and use of a gun in the course of a felony.
  • The Maryland Court of Special Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of Buie’s motion to suppress.
  • The Maryland Court of Appeals reversed.  It held that the Fourth Amendment requires probable cause of a serious and demonstrable potential for danger before a protective sweep is allowed.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Issue and Holding:

Absent probable cause of a serious potential for danger, does the Fourth Amendment prohibit police from conducting a protective sweep after an in-home arrest?  No.


The judgment of the Maryland Court of Appeals is vacated, and the case is remanded.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

Following an in-home arrest, police may conduct a limited protective sweep if there is a reasonable belief, based on specific and articulable facts, that there may be someone in the area posing a danger to police or others.


  • The issue is the level of justification for a sweep under the Fourth Amendment.

Under the plain view doctrine, evidence discovered in plain view (such as the red running suit in this case) is lawfully seized if the officer saw the evidence from a lawful vantage point.  Thus, the issue in this case is the level of justification required by the Fourth Amendment for the officer’s protective sweep of Buie’s basement.

  • The lower court’s standard was too strict.

The Maryland Court of Appeals’ standard — probable cause of serious and demonstrable potential for danger — is too strict a standard.  The correct standard, or level of justification, to satisfy the Fourth Amendment comes from the Court’s decisions in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968) and Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032 (1983).  In both cases (Terry involved on-street encounters and Long involved auto stops), the Court allowed a limited search in order for an officer to protect himself from harm.  Accordingly, the protective sweep here is permitted provided that police have a reasonable belief, based on specific and articulable facts, that there may be a dangerous individual hiding in the area to be swept.

  • Chimel is distinguishable from the present case.

The Court’s decision in Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752 (1969) is distinguishable.  Although Chimel limited a search to only the arrestee’s wingspan during an in-house arrest, that case involved a warrant to search the entire house.  Also, the fear of another individual lurking in the shadows did not exist in Chimel.  Accordingly, that case does not alter the Court’s holding here.

Concurring & Dissenting Opinions:

Concurring Opinion (Stevens):

It must be emphasized that the reasonable suspicion standard announced by the Court applies only to protective sweeps.  Something higher than reasonable suspicion is needed for a search that does not implicate an officer’s safety.  The State has a formidable task on remand to prove that there was a basis for the sweep under the Court’s standard.

Concurring Opinion (Kennedy):

In contrast to Justice Stevens’ view, the protective sweep in this case is easily justifiable as a standard police safety procedure.

Dissenting Opinion (Brennan):

The sanctity of the home is of primary importance to the Fourth Amendment.  Accordingly, allowing a highly intrusive protective sweep in a person’s home, based only on reasonable suspicion, is not consistent with the Constitution. Importantly, Terry and Long are cases involving areas outside a person’s home.   Thus, they are not relevant to the present case.


Maryland v. Buie created the “protective sweep doctrine,” carving out a fairly broad exception to the requirement of probable cause for searches of a person’s home.  There is very little stopping a police officer, based on Maryland v. Buie, from conducting a protective sweep over a broad area of someone’s home in the name of safety.  Circuit courts are currently split on the use of the protective sweep doctrine in non-arrest cases.

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