455 U.S. 1 (1982), 81-1349, Washington v. Chrisman

Docket Nº:No. 81-1349
Citation:455 U.S. 1, 102 S.Ct. 812, 70 L.Ed.2d 778
Party Name:Washington v. Chrisman
Case Date:January 13, 1982
Court:United States Supreme Court

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455 U.S. 1 (1982)

102 S.Ct. 812, 70 L.Ed.2d 778




No. 81-1349

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 13, 1982

Argued November 3, 1981



An officer of the Washington State University police department observed a student (Overdahl) leave a dormitory carrying a bottle of gin; because Overdahl appeared to be under 21 (the minimum age allowable under Washington law for possession of alcoholic beverages), the officer stopped him and asked for identification. After Overdahl requested to retrieve his identification from his dormitory room, the officer accompanied him there and, while remaining in the open doorway watching Overdahl and his roommate (respondent), noticed what he believed to be marihuana seeds and a pipe lying on a desk in the room. The officer then entered the room, confirmed that the seeds were marihuana, and determined that the pipe smelled of marihuana, and informed Overdahl and resspondent of their rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436. The students indicated their willingness to waive such rights, and after the officer asked if there were any other drugs in the room, respondent gave him a box which contained more marihuana and cash. After a second officer arrived, the students voluntarily consented, orally and in writing, to a search of the room, which yielded more marihuana and another controlled substance. Respondent was later charged with two counts of possessing the controlled substances and, after denial of his pretrial motion to suppress the evidence seized in the room, was convicted. The Washington Court of Appeals affirmed, but the Washington Supreme Court reversed. It held that, although Overdahl had been placed under lawful arrest, the officer had no right to enter the room and

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seize contraband without a warrant, and that, because the students' consent to the subsequent search of the room was the fruit of the officer's initial entry, the contraband found during that search should also have been suppressed.


1. It is not "unreasonable" under the Fourth Amendment for a police officer, as a matter of foutine, to monitor the movements of an arrested person, as his judgment dictates, following the arrest. The officer's need to ensure his own safety -- as well as the integrity of the arrest -- is compelling. Such surveillance is not an impermissible invasion of the privacy or personal liberty of an individual who has been arrested. Once the officer had placed Overdahl under lawful arrest, he was authorized to accompany him to his room for the purpose of obtaining identification. The officer had a right to remain literally at Overdahl's elbow at all times, and thus a showing of "exigent circumstances" was not necessary to warrant the officer's accompanying Overdahl from the public corridor of the dormitory into his room. Pp. 5-7.

2. The Fourth Amendment did not prohibit the seizure of the contraband discovered in plain view in the room. Regardless of where the officer was positioned with respect to the room's threshold when he observed the contraband, and regardless of whether he may have hesitated briefly at the doorway before entering the room, he did not abandon his right to be in the room with Overdahl whenever he considered it essential. Accordingly, he had the right to act as soon as he observed the seeds and pipe. Pp. 8-9.

The seizure of other contraband taken from respondent's room pursuant to his valid consent did not violate the Fourth Amendment. He voluntarily produced marihuana after being informed of his Miranda rights, and he then consented to the search of the room. Thus, all of the seized contraband was properly admitted at his trial. Pp. 9-10.

94 Wash.2d 711, 619 P.2d 971, reversed and remanded.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 10.

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BURGER, J., lead opinion

CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari to consider whether a police officer may, consistent with the Fourth Amendment, accompany an arrested person into his residence and seize contraband discovered there in plain view.


On the evening of January 21, 1978, Officer Daugherty of the Washington State University police department observed Carl Overdahl, a student at the University, leave a student dormitory carrying a half-gallon bottle of gin. Because Washington law forbids possession of alcoholic beverages by persons under 21, Wash.Rev.Code § 66.44.270 (1981), and Overdahl appeared to be under age,1 the officer stopped him and asked for identification. Overdahl sad that his identification was in his dormitory room, and asked if the officer would wait while he went to retrieve it. The officer answered that, under the circumstances, he would have to accompany Overdahl, to which Overdahl replied "OK."

Overdahl's toom was approximately 11 bt 17 feet, and located on the 11th floor of the dormitory. Respondent Chrisman, Overdahl's roommate, was in the room when the officer and Overdahl entered. The officer remained in the open doorway, leaning against the doorjamb while watching Chrisman and Overdahl. He observed that Chrisman, who was in the process of placing a small box in the room's medicine cabinet, because nervous at the sight of an officer.

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Within 30 to 45 seconds after Overdahl entered the room, the officer noticed seeds ancl a small pipe lying on a clesk 8 to 10 feet from where he uas standing. From his training and experience, the officer believed the seeds were marihuana and the pipe was of a type used to smoke marihuana. He entered the room and examined the pipe and seeds, confirming that the seeds were marihuana and observing that the pipe smelled of marihuana.

The officer informed Overdahl and Chrisman of their rights under Mianda v. Aizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966); each acknowledged that he understood his rights and indicated that he was willing to waive them. Officer Daugherty then asked whether the students had any other drugs in the room. The respondent handed Daugherty the box he had been carrying earlier, which contained three small plastic bags filled with marihuana and $112 in cash. At that point, Officer Daugherty called by radio for a second officer; on his arrival, the two students were told that a search of the room would be necessary. The officers explained to Overdahl and Chrisman that they had an absolute right to insist that the officers first obtain a search warrant, but that they could voluntarily consent to the search. Following this explanation, which was given in considerable detail, the two students conferred in whispers for several minutes before announcing their consent; they also signed written forms consenting to the search of the room. The search yielded more marihuana and a quantity of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), both controlled substances.

Respondent was charged with one count of possessing more than 40 grams of marihuana and one count of possessing LSD, both felonies under Wash.Rev.Code § 69.50.401(c) (1976) (current version at Wash.Rev.Code § 69.50.401(d) (1981)). A pretrial motion to suppress the evidence seized in the room was denied; respondent was convicted of both counts. On appeal, the Washington Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions, upholding the validity of the search. 24 Wash.App. 385, 600 P.2d 1316 (1979).

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The Supreme Court of Washington reversed. 94 Wash.2d 711, 619 P.2d 971 (1980). It held that, although Overdahl had been placed under lawful arrest and "there [102 S.Ct. 816] was nothing to prevent Officer Daugherty from accompanying Overdahl to his room," the officer had no right to enter the room and either examine or seize contraband without a warrant. The court reasoned there was no indication that Overdahl might obtain a weapon or destroy evidence, and, with the officer blocking the only exit from the room, his presence inside the room was not necessary to prevent escape. Because the officer's entry into the room and his observations of its interior were not justified by "exigent circumstances," the seizure of the seeds and pipe were held not to fall within the...

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