Steagald v. United States

PETITIONER:Gary Keith Steagald
RESPONDENT:United States
LOCATION: Steagald Residence

DOCKET NO.: 79-6777
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 451 US 204 (1981)
ARGUED: Jan 14, 1981
DECIDED: Apr 21, 1981
GRANTED: Oct 06, 1980

Mr. Andrew L. Frey – on behalf of the Respondent
John Richard Young – on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case

On January 14, 1978, a confidential informant contacted the Detroit police with information that wanted-drug dealer Ricky Lyons was at a residence in Atlanta, Georgia. Atlanta police responded to the residence and, without a warrant, searched the home of petitioner Gary Steagald. Although the police did not find Lyons, they did find what appeared to be cocaine. At this point, the police obtained a warrant and completed their search, in which they found 43 pounds of cocaine.

Steagald was arrested and brought to trial. He moved to suppress the evidence that police found prior to the warrants, and the district court denied the motion. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed.


Does the Fourth Amendment prevent police officers from searching for a suspect in the home of a third party without obtaining a warrant?

Media for Steagald v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – January 14, 1981 in Steagald v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – April 21, 1981 in Steagald v. United States

Warren E. Burger:

The judgments and opinions of the Court in Steagald against the United States will be announced by Justice Marshall.

Thurgood Marshall:

This case is here on writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Petitioner was convicted of narcotic offenses on the basis of evidence uncovered during the search of his residence for a federal fugitive.

In the courts below, petitioner argued that the search violated the Fourth Amendment because it was conducted without a search warrant.

The Court of Appeals objected this contention concluding that the officers who conducted the search were not required to obtain a search warrant because they had an arrest warrant for the same fugitive and reasonably believed that this fugitive might be a guest in petitioner’s home.

For reasons stated in an opinion filed with the clerk today, we reverse.

The Fourth Amendment generally prohibits the search of a home without a warrant.

The arrest warrant possessed by the officers in this case did not satisfy this requirement.

It addressed only the issue of whether there was probable cause to arrest the fugitive and therefore did not consider the essential question of whether there was probable cause to believe that the fugitive was located in petitioner’s home.

The warrant does fail to protect petitioner’s Fourth Amendment right to be secure in his home from a forcible and unjustified intrusion by the government.

The Chief Justice concurs in the judgment.

Justice Rehnquist has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice White joins.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Marshall.