395 U.S. 752 (1969), 770, Chimel v. California

Docket Nº:No. 770
Citation:395 U.S. 752, 89 S.Ct. 2034, 23 L.Ed.2d 685
Party Name:Chimel v. California
Case Date:June 23, 1969
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 752

395 U.S. 752 (1969)

89 S.Ct. 2034, 23 L.Ed.2d 685




No. 770

United States Supreme Court

June 23, 1969

Argued March 27, 1969



Police officers, armed with an arrest warrant but not a search warrant, were admitted to petitioner's home by his wife, where they awaited petitioner's arrival. When he entered, he was served with the warrant. Although he denied the officers' request to "look around," they conducted a search of the entire house "on the basis of the lawful arrest." At petitioner's trial on burglary charges, items taken from his home were admitted over objection that they had been unconstitutionally seized. His conviction was affirmed by the California appellate courts, which held, despite their acceptance of petitioner's contention that the arrest warrant was invalid, that, since the arresting officers had procured the warrant "in good faith," and since, in any event, they had had sufficient information to constitute probable cause for the arrest, the arrest was lawful. The courts also held that the search was justified as incident to a valid arrest.

Held: Assuming the arrest was valid, the warrantless search of petitioner's house cannot be constitutionally justified as incident to that arrest. Pp. 755-768.

(a) An arresting officer may search the arrestee's person to discover and remove weapons and to seize evidence to prevent its concealment or destruction, and may search the area "within the immediate control" of the person arrested, meaning the area from which he might gain possession of a weapon or destructible evidence. Pp. 762-763.

(b) For the routine search of rooms other than that in which an arrest occurs, or for searching desk drawers or other closed or concealed areas in that room itself, absent well recognized exceptions, a search warrant is required. P. 763.

(c) While the reasonableness of a search incident to arrest depends upon "the facts and circumstances -- the total atmosphere of the case," those facts and circumstances must be viewed in the light of established Fourth Amendment principles, and the only reasoned distinction is one between (1) a search of the person arrested and the area within his reach, and (2) more extensive searches. Pp. 765-766.

Page 753

(d) United Ste v. Rabinowitz, 339 U.S. 56, and Harris v. United States, 331 U.S. 145, on their facts, and insofar as the principles they stand for are inconsistent with this decision, are no longer to be followed. P. 768.

(e) The scope of the search here was unreasonable under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, as it went beyond petitioner's person and the area from within which he might have obtained a weapon or something that could have been used as evidence against him, and there was no constitutional justification, in the absence of a search warrant, for extending the search beyond that area. P. 768.

68 Cal.2d 436, 439 P.2d 333, reversed.

STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case raises basic questions concerning the permissible scope under the Fourth Amendment of a search incident to a lawful arrest.

The relevant facts are essentially undisputed. Late in the afternoon of September 13, 1965, three police officers arrived at the Santa Ana, California, home of the petitioner with a warrant authorizing his arrest for the burglary of a coin shop. The officers knocked on the door, identified themselves to the petitioner's wife, and asked if they might come inside. She ushered them into the house, where they waited 10 or 15 minutes until the petitioner returned home from work. When the petitioner entered the house, one of the officers handed him the arrest warrant and asked for permission to "look around." The petitioner objected, but was advised that,

Page 754

"on the basis of the lawful arrest," the officers would nonetheless conduct a search. No search warrant had been issued.

Accompanied by the petitioner's wife, the officers then looked through the entire three-bedroom house, including the attic, the garage, and a small workshop. In some rooms, the search was relatively cursory. In the master bedroom and sewing room, however, the officers directed the petitioner's wife to open drawers and

to physically move contents of the drawers from side to side so that [they] might view any items that would have come from [the] burglary.

After completing the search, they seized numerous items -- primarily coins, but also several medals, tokens, and a few other objects. The entire search took between 45 minutes and an hour.

At the petitioner's subsequent state trial on two charges of burglary, the items taken from his house were admitted into evidence against him over his objection that they had been unconstitutionally seized. He was convicted, and the judgments of conviction were affirmed by both the California Court of Appeal, 61 Cal.Rptr. 714, and the California Supreme Court, 68 Cal.2d 436, 439 P.2d 333. Both courts accepted the petitioner's contention that the arrest arrant was invalid because the supporting affidavit was set out in conclusory terms,1 but held that, since the arresting officers had procured the warrant "in good faith," and since, in any event, they had had sufficient information to constitute probable cause for the petitioner's arrest, that arrest had been lawful. From this conclusion, the appellate courts went on to hold that the search of the petitioner's home

Page 755

had been justified, despite the absence of a search warrant, on the ground that it had been incident to a valid arrest. We granted certiorari in order to consider the petitioner's substantial constitutional claims. 393 U.S. 958.

Without deciding the question, we proceed on the hypothesis that the California [89 S.Ct. 2036] courts were correct in holding that the arrest of the petitioner was valid under the Constitution. This brings us directly to the question whether the warrantless search of the petitioner's entire house can be constitutionally justified as incident to that arrest. The decisions of this Court bearing upon that question have been far from consistent, as even the most cursory review makes evident.

Approval of a warrantless search incident to a lawful arrest seems first to have been articulated by the Court in 1914 as dictum in Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383, in which the Court stated:

What then is the present case? Before answering that inquiry specifically, it may be well, by a process of exclusion, to state what it is not. It is not an assertion of the right on the part of the Government, always recognized under English and American law, to search the person of the accused when legally arrested to discover and seize the fruits or evidences of crime.

Id. at 392. That statement made no reference to any right to search the place where an arrest occurs, but was limited to a right to search the "person." Eleven years later, the case of Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, brought the following embellishment of the Weeks statement:

When a man is legally arrested for an offense, whatever is found upon his person or in his control which it is unlawful for him to have and which may be used to prove the offense may be seized and held

Page 756

as evidence in the prosecution.

Id. at 158. (Emphasis added.) Still, that assertion too was far from a claim that the "place" where one is arrested may be searched so long as the arrest is valid. Without explanation, however, the principle emerged in expanded form a few months later in Agnello v. United States, 269 U.S. 20 -- although still by way of dictum:

The right without a search warrant contemporaneously to search persons lawfully arrested while committing crime and to search the place where the arrest is made in order to find and seize things connected with the crime as its fruits or as the means by which it was committed, as well as weapons and other things to effect an escape from custody, is not to be doubted. See Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 158; Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383, 392.

269 U.S. at 30. And in Marron v. United States, 275 U.S. 192, two years later, the dictum of Agnello appeared to be the foundation of the Court's decision. In that case, federal agents had secured a search warrant authorizing the seizure of liquor and certain articles used in its manufacture. When they arrived at the premises to be searched, they saw "that the place was used for retailing and drinking intoxicating liquors." Id. at 194. They proceeded to arrest the person in charge and to execute the warrant. In searching a closet for the items listed in the warrant, they came across an incriminating ledger, concededly not covered by the warrant, which they also seized. The Court upheld the seizure of the ledger by holding that, since the agents had made a lawful arrest,

[t]hey had a right without a warrant contemporaneously to search the place in order to find and seize the things used to carry on the criminal enterprise.

Id. at 199.

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That the Marron opinion did not mean all that it seemed to say became evident, however, a few years later in Go-Bart Importing Co. v. United States, 282 U.S. 344, and United States v. Lefkowitz, 285 U.S. 452. In each of those cases, the opinion of the [89 S.Ct. 2037] Court was written by Mr. Justice Butler, the author of the opinion in Marron. In Go-Bart, agents had searched the office of persons whom they had lawfully arrested,2 and had taken several papers from a desk, a safe, and other parts of the office. The Court noted that no crime had been committed in the agents' presence, and that, although the agent in charge "had an abundance of information and time to swear out a valid [search] warrant, he failed to do so." 282 U.S. at 358. In holding the search and seizure unlawful, the Court stated:

Plainly the case before us...

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