Warden v. Hayden (1967)

Supreme Court of the United States

Theodore Payton v. New York 

Decided April 15, 1980 – 445 U.S. 573


Mr. Justice STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

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. 


On January 14, 1970, after two days of intensive investigation, New York detectives had assembled evidence sufficient to establish probable cause to believe that Theodore Payton had murdered the manager of a gas station two days earlier. At about 7:30 a.m. on January 15, six officers went to Payton’s apartment in the Bronx, intending to arrest him. They had not obtained a warrant. Although light and music emanated from the apartment, there was no response to their knock on the metal door. They summoned emergency assistance and, about 30 minutes later, used crowbars to break open the door and enter the apartment. No one was there. In plain view, however, was a .30-caliber shell casing that was seized and later admitted into evidence at Payton’s murder trial. 

In due course Payton surrendered to the police, was indicted for murder, and moved to suppress the evidence taken from his apartment. The trial judge held that the warrantless and forcible entry was authorized by the New York Code of Criminal Procedure, and that the evidence in plain view was properly seized. He found that exigent circumstances justified the officers’ failure to announce their purpose before entering the apartment as required by the statute. He had no occasion, however, to decide whether those circumstances also would have justified the failure to obtain a warrant, because he concluded that the warrantless entry was adequately supported by the statute without regard to the circumstances. The Appellate Division, First Department, summarily affirmed. The New York Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction[] of [] Payton. 

Before addressing the narrow question presented by these appeals, we put to one side other related problems that are not presented today. Although it is arguable that the warrantless entry to effect Payton’s arrest might have been justified by exigent circumstances, none of the New York courts relied on any such justification. The Court of Appeals majority treated [] Payton’s [] case[] as involving [a] routine arrest in which there was ample time to obtain a warrant, and we will do the same. Accordingly, we have no occasion to consider the sort of emergency or dangerous situation, described in our cases as “exigent circumstances,” that would justify a warrantless entry into a home for the purpose of either arrest or search.

Nor do these cases raise any question concerning the authority of the police, without either a search or arrest warrant, to enter a third party’s home to arrest a suspect. The police broke into Payton’s apartment intending to arrest Payton. We also note that it [is not] argued that the police lacked probable cause to believe that [Payton] was at home when they entered. Finally, we are dealing with [an] entr[y] into [a] home[] made without the consent of any occupant. 



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. [T]his distinction has equal force when the seizure of a person is involved. [T]he critical point is that any differences in the intrusiveness of entries to search and entries to arrest are merely ones 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 … shall not be violated.” That language unequivocally establishes the proposition that “[a]t the very core [of the Fourth Amendment] stands the right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable governmental 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.



If there is sufficient evidence of a citizen’s participation in a felony to persuade a judicial officer that his arrest is justified, it is constitutionally reasonable to require him to open his doors to the officers of the law. Thus, for Fourth Amendment purposes, an arrest warrant founded on probable cause implicitly carries with it the limited authority to enter a dwelling in which the suspect lives when there is reason to believe the suspect is within.

Because no arrest warrant was obtained, the judgments must be reversed and the cases remanded to the New York Court of Appeals for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

Mr. Justice WHITE, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE and Mr. Justice REHNQUIST join, dissenting.

The Court today holds that absent exigent circumstances officers may never enter a home during the daytime to arrest for a dangerous felony unless they have first obtained a warrant. This hard-and-fast rule, founded on erroneous assumptions concerning the intrusiveness of home arrest entries, finds little or no support in the common law or in the text and history of the Fourth Amendment. I respectfully dissent.


In sum, the background, text, and legislative history of the Fourth Amendment demonstrate that the purpose was to restrict the abuses that had developed with respect to warrants; the Amendment preserved common-law rules of arrest. Because it was not considered generally unreasonable at common law for officers to break doors to effect a warrantless felony arrest, I do not believe that the Fourth Amendment was intended to outlaw the types of police conduct at issue in the present cases.


Our cases establish that the ultimate test under the Fourth Amendment is one of “reasonableness.” I cannot join the Court in declaring unreasonable a practice which has been thought entirely reasonable by so many for so long. 

Notes, Comments, and Questions 

Consider the “routine felony arrest” in other locations. Do the police need a search warrant to enter third party’s home? Suspect’s place of employment? Suspect’s privately-owned business? Suspect’s girlfriend’s home?  Suspect’s parent’s home?

Exigent Circumstances: Public Safety

The next category of exigent circumstances includes situations in which police believe public safety is at immediate risk. For example, when operators receive a 911 call reporting an ongoing assault, police need not seek a warrant before heading to the crime scene and, if necessary, entering a home. Firefighters and emergency medical personnel also enter buildings without warrants to provide prompt aid. Similarly, officers who hear screams coming from a house or perceive other evidence of imminent danger may have probable cause that justifies warrantless entry. In these situations, police could not effectively “serve and protect” without an exception to the warrant requirement. 


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Criminal Procedure: Undergraduate Edition Copyright © 2022 by Christopher E. Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book