415 U.S. 800 (1974), 73-88, United States v. Edwards

Docket Nº:No. 73-88
Citation:415 U.S. 800, 94 S.Ct. 1234, 39 L.Ed.2d 771
Party Name:United States v. Edwards
Case Date:March 26, 1974
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 800

415 U.S. 800 (1974)

94 S.Ct. 1234, 39 L.Ed.2d 771

United States



No. 73-88

United States Supreme Court

March 26, 1974

Argued January 15, 1974




Respondent Edwards was arrested shortly after 11 p.m. on May 31, 1970, and taken to jail. The next morning, a warrantless seizure was made of his clothing and over his objection at his later trial, which resulted in conviction, was used as evidence. The Court of Appeals reversed. Though conceding the legality of the arrest, that probable cause existed for believing that the clothing would reveal incriminating evidence, and that searches and seizures that could be made at the time of arrest may be legally conducted when the accused arrives at the place of detention, the court held that the warrantless seizure of Edwards' clothing "after the administrative process and the mechanics of the arrest [had] come to a halt" was unconstitutional.

Held: The search and seizure of Edwards' clothing did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 802-809.

(a) At the time Edwards was placed in his cell, the normal processes incident to arrest and custody had not been completed, and the delay in seizing the clothing was not unreasonable, since, at that late hour, no substitute clothing [94 S.Ct. 1236] was available, and when, the next morning, the police were able to supply substitute clothing and took Edwards' clothing for laboratory analysis, they did no more than they were entitled to do incident to the usual arrest and incarceration. Pp. 804-805.

(b) Once an accused has been lawfully arrested and is in custody, the effects in his possession at the place of detention that were subject to search at the time and place of arrest may lawfully be searched and seized without a warrant even after a substantial time lapse between the arrest and later administrative processing, on the one hand, and the taking of the property for use as evidence, on the other. Pp. 806-808.

474 F.2d 1206, reversed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. STEWART,

Page 801

J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which DOUGLAS, BRENNAN, and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 809.

WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. .JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question here is whether the Fourth Amendment should be extended to exclude from evidence certain clothing taken from respondent Edwards while he was in custody at the city jail approximately 10 hours after his arrest. Shortly after 11 p.m. on May 31, 1970, respondent Edwards was lawfully arrested on the streets of Lebanon, Ohio, and charged with attempting to break into that city's Post Office.1 He was taken to the local jail and placed in a cell. Contemporaneously or shortly thereafter, investigation at the scene revealed that the attempted entry had been made through a wooden window which apparently had been pried up with a pry bar, leaving paint chips on the window sill and wire mesh

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screen. The next morning, trousers and a T-shirt were purchased for Edwards to substitute for the clothing which he had been wearing at the time of and since his arrest. His clothing was then taken from him and held as evidence. Examination of the clothing revealed paint chips matching the samples that had been taken from the window. This evidence and his clothing were received at trial over Edwards' objection that neither the clothing nor the results of its examination were admissible because the warrantless seizure of his clothing was invalid under the Fourth Amendment.

The Court of Appeals reversed. Expressly disagreeing with two other Courts of Appeals,2 it held that, although the arrest was lawful and probable cause existed to believe that paint chips would be discovered on respondent's clothing, the warrantless seizure of the clothing carried out "after the administrative process and the mechanics of the arrest have come to a halt" was nevertheless unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment. 474 F.2d 1206, 1211 (CA6 1973). We granted certiorari, 414 U.S. 818, and now conclude that the Fourth Amendment should not be extended to invalidate the search and seizure in the circumstances of this case.

The prevailing rule under the Fourth Amendment that searches and seizures may not be made without a warrant is subject to various exceptions. One of them permits warrantless searches incident to custodial arrests, United States v. Robinson, 414 U.S. 218 (1973); Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752, 755 (1969); [94 S.Ct. 1237] Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383, 392 (1914), and has traditionally been justified by the reasonableness of searching for weapons, instruments of escape, and evidence of crime

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when a person is taken into official custody and lawfully detained. United States v. Robinson, supra.3

It is also plain that searches and seizures that could be made on the spot at the time of arrest may legally be conducted later when the accused arrives at the place of detention. If need be, Abel v. United States, 362 U.S. 217 (1960), settled this question. There, the defendant was arrested at his hotel, but the belongings taken with him to the place of detention were searched there. In sustaining the search, the Court noted that a valid search of the property could have been made at the place of arrest and perceived little difference

when the accused decides to take the property with him, for the search of it to occur instead at the first place of detention when the accused arrives there, especially as the search of property carried by an accused to the place of detention has additional justifications, similar to those which justify a search of the person of one who is arrested.

Id. at 239. The courts of appeals have followed this same rule, holding that both the person and the property in his immediate possession may be searched at the station house after the arrest has occurred at another place and if evidence of crime is discovered, it may be seized and admitted in evidence.4 Nor is there any doubt

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that clothing or other belongings may be seized upon arrival of the accused at the place of detention and later subjected to laboratory analysis, or that the test results are admissible at trial.5

Conceding all this, the Court of Appeals in this case nevertheless held that a warrant is required where the search occurs after the administrative mechanics of arrest have been completed and the prisoner is incarcerated. But even on these terms, it seems to us that the normal processes incident to arrest and custody had not been completed when Edwards was placed in his cell on the night of May 31. With or without probable cause, the authorities were entitled at that point not only to [94 S.Ct. 1238] search Edwards' clothing, but also to take it from him and keep it in official custody. There was testimony that this was the standard practice in this city.6 The police

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were also entitled to take from Edwards any evidence of the crime in his immediate possession, including his clothing. And the Court of Appeals acknowledged that...

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