Dunaway v. New York Case Brief

Why is the case important?

An individual was taken into police custody, but was told he was not under arrest. However, if he tried to leave, the police would have restrained him.

Facts of the case

“On March 26, 1971, the proprietor of a Rochester, New York pizza parlor was killed in an attempted robbery. On August 10, 1971, the police received a lead implicating Irving Dunaway, but the lead did not provide enough information to arrest him. Nevertheless, the police brought him in for questioning. He was not told he was under arrest, but he would be physically restrained if he attempted to leave. After being informed of his Miranda rights, Dunaway waived his right to counsel and made statements and a drawing that incriminated himself.At trial, Dunaway filed a motion to suppress the evidence of his confession and drawing. The motion was denied and he was convicted. The Appellate Division of the Fourth Department and the New York Court of Appeals both affirmed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari, vacated the judgment, and remanded the case for reconsideration in light of Brown v. Illinois .The Monroe County Court determined that the motion to suppress should have been granted under Brown . The Appellate Division of the Fourth Department reversed and held that suspects can be detained and questioned without violating Fourth or Fifth Amendment rights. The New York Court of Appeals dismissed Dunaway’s application for leave to appeal.”


Whether the Rochester police violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments when, without probable cause to arrest, they took petitioner into custody, transported him to the police station, and detained him there for interrogation?
Whether the connection between this unconstitutional police conduct and the incriminating statements and sketches obtained during petitioner’s illegal detention was nevertheless sufficiently attenuated to permit the use at trial of the statements and sketches?


“The Petitioner was seized in a Fourth Amendment sense, but the police lacked probable cause to arrest petitioner before his incriminating statement during the interrogation. Terry for the first time recognized an exception to the requirement that Fourth Amendment seizures of persons must be based on probable cause. That case involved a brief, on-the-spot stop on the street and a frisk for weapons, a situation that did not fit comfortably within the traditional concept of an ‘arrest.’ Nevertheless, the Court held that even this type of ‘necessarily swift action predicated upon the on-the-spot observations of the officer on the beat’ constituted a ‘serious intrusion upon the sanctity of the person, which may inflict great indignity and arouse strong resentment,’ and therefore ‘must be tested by the Fourth Amendment’s general proscription against unreasonable searches and seizures.’ However, since the intrusion involved in a ‘stop and frisk’ was so much less severe than th
at involved in traditional ‘arrests,’ the Court declined to stretch the concept of ‘arrest’ – and the general rule requiring probable cause to make arrests ‘reasonable’ under the Fourth Amendment – to cover such intrusions. Instead, the Court treated the stop-and-frisk intrusion as a sui generis ‘rubric of police conduct,’ and to determine the justification necessary to make this specially limited intrusion ‘reasonable’ under the Fourth Amendment, the Court balanced the limited violation of individual privacy involved against the opposing interests in crime prevention and detection and in the police officer’s safety.’
Thus, Terry departed from traditional Fourth Amendment analysis in two respects. First, it defined a special category of Fourth Amendment ‘seizures’ so substantially less intrusive than arrests that the general rule requiring probable cause to make Fourth Amendment ‘seizures’ reasonable could be replaced by a balancing test. Second, the application of this balancing test led the Court to approve this narrowly defined less intrusive seizure on grounds less rigorous than probable cause, but only for the purpose of a pat-down for weapons.’
In contrast to the brief and narrowly circumscribed intrusions involved in those cases, the detention of petitioner in this case was in important respects indistinguishable from a traditional arrest. Petitioner was not questioned briefly where he was found. Instead, he was taken from a neighbor’s home to a police car, transported to a police station, and placed in an interrogation room. He was never informed that he was ‘free to go’

  • indeed, he would have been physically restrained if he had refused to accompany the officers or had tried to escape their custody. The application of the Fourth Amendment’s requirement of probable cause does not depend on whether an intrusion of this magnitude is termed an ‘arrest’ under state law. The mere facts that petitioner was not told he was under arrest, was not ‘booked,’ and would not have had an arrest record if the interrogation had proved fruitless, while not insignificant for all purposes, obviously do not make petitioner’s seizure even
    roughly analogous to the narrowly defined intrusions involved in Terry and its progeny. Indeed, any ‘exception’ that could cover a seizure as intrusive as that in this case would threaten to swallow the general rule that Fourth Amendment seizures are ‘reasonable’ only if based on probable cause.
    Detention for custodial interrogation – regardless of its label – intrudes so severely on interests protected by the Fourth Amendment as necessarily to trigger the traditional safeguards against illegal arrest.
    Consequently, although a confession after proper Miranda warnings may be found ‘voluntary’ for purposes of the Fifth Amendment, this type of ‘voluntariness’ is merely a ‘threshold requirement’ for Fourth Amendment analysis. Indeed, if the Fifth Amendment has been violated, the Fourth Amendment issue would not have to be reached.
    Beyond this threshold requirement, Brown articulated a test designed to vindicate the ‘distinct policies and interests of the Fourth Amendment.’ Following Wong Sun, the Court eschewed any per se or ‘but for’ rule, and identified the relevant inquiry as ‘whether Brown’s statements were obtained by exploitation of the illegality of his arrest,’ Brown’s focus on ‘the causal connection between the illegality and the confession,’ reflected the two policies behind the use of the exclusionary rule to effectuate the Fourth Amendment. When there is a close causal connection between the illegal seizure and the confession, not only is exclusion of the evidence more likely to deter similar police misconduct in the future, but use of the evidence is more likely to compromise the integrity of the courts.
    Brown identified several factors to be considered ‘in determining whether the confession is obtained by exploitation of an illegal arrest: the temporal proximity of the arrest and the confession, the presence of intervening circumstances, . . . and, particularly, the purpose and flagrancy of the official misconduct . . . . And the burden of showing admissibility rests, of course, on the prosecution.’
    The situation in this case is virtually a replica of the situation in Brown. Petitioner was also admittedly seized without probable cause in the hope that something might turn up, and confessed without any intervening event of significance. No intervening events broke the connection between petitioner’s illegal detention and his confession. To admit petitioner’s confession in such a case would allow ‘law enforcement officers to violate the Fourth Amendment with impunity, safe in the knowledge that they could wash their hands in the `procedural safeguards’ of the Fifth.’


    The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the appellate division’s decision. The Court held that police violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Federal Constitution when, without probable cause to arrest, they took Dunaway into custody, transported him to the police station, and detained him there for interrogation. This detention for custodial interrogation intruded so severely on interests protected by the Fourth Amendment as to trigger the traditional safeguards against illegal arrest. Moreover, the incriminating evidence given to the police during the illegal detention was not admissible at trial, since under appropriate Fourth Amendment analysis, no intervening event broke the connection between Dunaway’s illegal detention and the incriminating statements. The giving of Miranda warnings did not render such connection sufficiently attenuated to permit use of the incriminating evidence at trial.

    • Case Brief: 1979
    • Petitioner: Irving Jerome Dunaway
    • Respondent: State of New York
    • Decided by: Burger Court

    Citation: 442 US 200 (1979)
    Argued: Mar 21, 1979
    Decided: Jun 5, 1979
    Granted Nov 27, 1978