Payton v. New York: Case Brief

Instructor: Rachael Smith

Rachael has a background in secondary education and has practiced law for eight years.

Payton v. New York (1980) addressed the issue of whether it constitutes illegal search and seizure when police enter into a private residence to make an arrest and then seize evidence without exigent circumstances.


In 1970, police were investigating a murder and identified Theodore Payton as a suspect. They went to his apartment in the Bronx without a warrant and knocked on the door. No one answered the door, but the police noticed that the lights were on in the apartment and music was playing. They then broke down the door to the apartment and found that there was no one home. At that time they seized (took into evidence) a shell casing from the apartment that was in plain view.

In due time, Payton surrendered himself to the police and then asked the court to exclude (keep out) the casing found in his apartment. The court found that New York law allowed the police to enter a residence without a warrant because they had probable cause to believe he had committed a felony.

The New York Court of Appeals affirmed (agreed with) the decision in Payton's case as well as in the case of Obie Riddick. In that case, Riddick was accused of committing two robberies in 1971. When police entered his residence in March 1974 without a warrant, they arrested him from his bed. Police opened and searched his dresser (which was approximately two feet from his bed) and found drugs and drug paraphernalia. He was arrested on both the robbery charges from 1971 as well the drug charges from his arrest.

Both Payton and Riddick appealed these decisions, stating that the invasion into their homes required that the police have a warrant. The Court of Appeals found, in both cases, that because the police had probable cause to believe that Payton and Riddick had committed felonies, police could enter the homes without warrants to make arrests and seize evidence.


Can police enter a private residence without a warrant to make an arrest?


Police cannot enter a home in order to arrest a felony suspect without a warrant or permission from the owner unless there is a recognized exception (for example, a suspect is likely to flee or destroy evidence while the police obtain a warrant). Thus, the Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional, according to the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, to search a home during an arrest when there is no arrest warrant and there are no exigent circumstances (emergency conditions).

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