Payton v. New York

LOCATION:Collision between Mr. Montrym’s car and motorcycle

DOCKET NO.: 78-5420
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: New York Court of Appeals

CITATION: 445 US 573 (1980)
REARGUED: Oct 09, 1979
DECIDED: Apr 15, 1980
ARGUED: Mar 26, 1979

Peter L. Zimroth – on behalf of the Appellee
William E. Hellerstein – on behalf of the Appellants

Facts of the case

New York City police suspected Theodore Payton of murdering a gas station manager. The police forcibly entered Payton’s home thinking he was there (he was not) and found evidence connecting Payton to the crime, which was introduced at Payton’s trial. The police lacked an arrest warrant when they entered his home. However, they acted under a New York law allowing police to enter a private residence to make a felony arrest without a warrant. At trial, Payton unsuccessfully sought to suppress the evidence as the fruit of an illegal search. State courts upheld. In the companion case, victims identified Obie Riddick in June 1973 for robberies in 1971. Police learned of his whereabouts in 1974. Without a warrant, they knocked on his door, entered his residence and arrested him. A search for weapons revealed illegal drugs. He was indicted on narcotics charges but sought the suppression of the evidence based on a warrantless entry. The trial judge concluded that the entry was authorized by the New York law and that the search was therefore permissible. Riddick was convicted. The appeals court affirmed.


Does New York statute authorizing warrantless arrests and searches violate the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures?

Media for Payton v. New York

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – March 26, 1979 in Payton v. New York
Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument – October 09, 1979 in Payton v. New York

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – April 15, 1980 in Payton v. New York

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court — opinions of the Court in Payton against New York and Riddick against New York will be announced by Mr. Justice Stevens.

John Paul Stevens:

These appeals challenge the constitutionality of New York statutes that authorize police officers to enter a private residence without a warrant and with force, if necessary, to make a routine felony arrest.

The important constitutional question presented by this challenge has been expressly left open in a number of our prior opinions.

Four years ago, in United States against Watson, this Court upheld a warrantless “midday public arrest,” expressly noting that the case did not pose “the still unsettled question whether and under what circumstances an officer may enter a suspect’s home to make a warrantless arrest.”

The question has been answered in different ways by other appellate courts.

The Supreme Court of Florida rejected the constitutional attack, as did the New York Court of Appeals in this case.

The courts of last resort in 10 other States, however, have held that unless special circumstances are present, warrantless arrests in the home are unconstitutional.

Of the seven United States Courts of Appeals that have considered the question, five have expressed the opinion that such arrests are unconstitutional.

Last term we noted probable jurisdiction of these appeals in order to address that question.

After hearing oral argument, we set the case for reargument this term.

We now reverse the New York Court of Appeals and hold that the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the police from making a warrantless and nonconsensual entry into a suspect’s home in order to make a routine felony arrest.

As the Court unanimously reiterated just a few years ago, the “physical entry of the home is the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed.”

It is a “basic principle of Fourth Amendment law” that searches and seizures inside a home without a warrant are presumptively unreasonable.

Yet it is also well settled that objects such as weapons or contraband found in a public place may be seized by the police without a warrant.

The seizure of property in plain view involves no invasion of privacy and is presumptively reasonable, assuming that there is probable cause to associate the property with criminal activity.

As the late Judge Leventhal of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals recognized, this distinction has equal force when the seizure of a person is involved.

Any differences in the intrusiveness of entries to search and entries to arrest are merely differences of degree rather than kind.

The two intrusions share this fundamental characteristic: the breach of the entrance to an individual’s home.

The Fourth Amendment protects the individual’s privacy in a variety of settings.

In none is the zone of privacy more clearly defined than when bounded by the unambiguous physical dimensions of an individual’s home, a zone that finds its roots in clear and specific constitutional terms: “The right of the people to be secure in their houses hall not be violated.”

That language unequivocally establishes the proposition that at the very core of the Fourth Amendment stands the right of a man to retreat into his home and there be free from unreasonable government intrusion.

In terms that apply equally to seizures of property and to seizures of persons, the Fourth Amendment has drawn a firm line at the entrance to the house.

Absent exigent circumstances, that threshold may not reasonably be crossed without a warrant.

For these reasons and for additional reasons set forth in a written opinion filed with the clerk, we reverse the judgments of the New York Court of Appeals and remand these cases to that Court for further proceedings.

Mr. Justice Blackmun has filed a concurring opinion.

Mr. Justice White has filed a dissenting opinion in which he is joined by the Chief Justice and Mr. Justice Rehnquist.

And Mr. Justice Rehnquist has also filed a dissenting opinion.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Stevens.