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The Supreme Court reacted skeptically Thursday to the government's argument that police may detain residents of a home to be searched even if they are away from home when the search takes place.

Liberal and conservative justices said they are reluctant to expand police powers that, for officer safety and other reasons, already allow the detention of people found at home during a search authorized by a warrant.

The case before the court involves a Long Island man who was picked up about three-quarters of a mile away from his apartment as police searched it for a gun.

The Fourth Amendment usually requires police to strongly suspect an individual has committed a crime before he can be detained. But the court in 1981 ruled in Michigan v. Summers that police could detain people without suspicion during a search to keep them from doing harm to officers, keep them from fleeing and allowing them to, for example, open a door instead of having the police bash it in.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the government was seeking to broaden police authority. "So you are taking the exception, which was tied tightly to the house," Ginsburg said to Justice Department lawyer Jeffrey Wall. "It was an exception to the main Fourth Amendment rule, and now you are asking to have that exception spread."

In this case, Chunon Bailey, also known by the alias of Polo, left his basement apartment in Wyandanch, N.Y., shortly before police began their search. Unaware of the impending search, Bailey and another man got into Bailey's black Lexus and drove away, apparently to get the friend home by 10 p.m. to comply with a condition of his parole.


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