Wilson v. Layne

PETITIONER:Charles H. Wilson
RESPONDENT:Harry Layne, Deputy United States Marshal
LOCATION:Alden’s Workplace

DOCKET NO.: 98-83
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 526 US 603 (1999)
ARGUED: Mar 24, 1999
DECIDED: May 24, 1999

Facts of the case


Media for Wilson v. Layne

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – May 24, 1999 in Wilson v. Layne

William H. Rehnquist:

I have the opinion of the Court to announce in two cases.

The first of them No. 98-83, Wilson against Layne comes to us from the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

The respondents here are officers of the Montgomery County, Maryland Sheriff’s Department, United States Marshals Service who executed an arrest warrant for a man named Dominic Wilson at an address in Rockville, Maryland.

In fact this was the home of his parents, the petitioners here.

The officers entered the dwelling accompanied by two Washington post newspaper reporters pursuing to an official media ride-along policy.

This entry precipitated a confrontation between the petitioners and the police.

The reporters were present in the home during the incident observing and taking pictures.

The Wilson’s sued the officers who they alleged had violated their Fourth Amendment rights by bringing the media along during a home entry.

The District Court denied the officers’ motions for summary judgment based on qualified immunity, and a divided Court of Appeals reversed holding that the law was not clearly established at the time of the search.

We first addressed whether the officers violated the Fourth Amendment rights of the Wilson’s when they brought the reporters into their living room during the execution of an arrest warrant.

Our cases in the common law have afforded strong protection to the right of residential privacy.

We held in Payton versus New York that an arrest warrant carries with it the limited authority to enter a person’s home to arrest him if it is reasonably believed that he is inside.

However, the authority to enter a home to make an arrest is a limited one and the reporters were not present in the home in this case for any reason related to the justification for the police entry into the home, the arrest of Dominic Wilson.

Although the officers argued that the presence of the media in the home served a number of legitimate law enforcement purposes.

These generalized objectives are not sufficient to justify bringing the media into a private home.

Police or other government — so we hold that this was the violation of the Fourth Amendment when this officers brought reporters and photographers from a newspaper into a private home which they had access to only by reasonable warrant.

But police or other government officials performing their duties they are generally entitled to immunity shielding them from liability for civil damages, unless their conduct violates clearly established rights which a reasonable person would have known.

We conclude that the Fourth Amendment right against media ride-along was not clearly established at the time of this search.

First, the Fourth Amendment question presented by this case is by no means open and shut; second, although media ride-alongs were common at the time of the search in this case which is in the early 90s at that time there were no judicial opinions holding a media ride-along became unlawful when it entered a home; and third, the officers relied on a departmental ride-along policy which permitted ride-along.

We agree with the Court of Appeals that the officers are entitled to qualified immunity and so we affirm its judgment.

Justice Stevens has filed a separate opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.