United States v. Robinson 8212 936

Citation94 S.Ct. 467,414 U.S. 218,38 L.Ed.2d 427
Decision Date11 December 1973
Docket NumberNo. 72,72
PartiesUNITED STATES, Petitioner, v. Willie ROBINSON, Jr. —936
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Having, as a result of a previous check of respondent's operator's permit, probable cause to arrest respondent for driving while his license was revoked, a police officer made a full-custody arrest of respondent for such offense. In accordance with prescribed procedures, the officer made a search of respondent's person, in the course of which he found in a coat pocket a cigarette package containing heroin. The heroin was admitted into evidence at the District Court trial, which resulted in respondent's conviction for a drug offense. The Court of Appeals reversed on the ground that the heroin had been obtained as a result of a search in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Held: In the case of a lawful custodial arrest a full search of the person is not only an exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment, but is also a 'reasonable' search under that Amendment. Pp. 224—237.

(a) A search incident to a valid arrest is not limited to a frisk of the suspect's outer clothing and removal of such weapons as the arresting officer may, as a result of such frisk, reasonably believe and ascertain that the suspect has in his possession, and the absence of probable fruits or further evidence of the particular crime for which the arrest is made does not narrow the standards applicable to such a search. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 distinguished. Pp. 227 229; 234—235.

(b) A custodial arrest of a suspect based on probable cause is a reasonable intrusion under the Fourth Amendment and a search incident to the arrest requires no additional justification, such as the probability in a particular arrest situation that weapons or evidence would in fact be found upon the suspect's person; and whether or not there was present one of the reasons supporting the authority for a search of the person incident to a lawful arrest need not be litigated in each case. Pp. 235.

(c) Since the custodial arrest here gave rise to the authority to search, it is immaterial that the arresting officer did not fear the respondent or suspect that he was armed. P. 236—237.

153 U.S.App.D.C. 114, 471 F.2d 1082, reversed.

Allan A. Tuttle, Raleigh, N.C., for petitioner.

Joseph V. Gartlan, Jr., Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondent Robinson was convicted in United States District Court for the District of Columbia of the possession and facilitation of concealment of heroin in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 4704(a) (1964 ed.), and 21 U.S.C. § 174 (1964 ed.). He was sentenced to concurrent terms of imprisonment for these offenses. On his appeal to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Cir- cuit, that court first remanded the case to the District Court for an evidentiary hearing concerning the scope of the search of respondent's person which had occurred at the time of his arrest. 145 U.S.App.D.C. 46, 447 F.2d 1215 (1971). The District Court made findings of fact and conclusions of law adverse to respondent, and he again appealed. This time the Court of Appeals en banc reversed the judgment of conviction, holding that the heroin introduced in evidence against respondent had been obtained as a result of a search which violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. 153 U.S.App.D.C. 114, 471 F.2d 1082 (1972). We granted certiorari, 410 U.S. 982, 93 S.Ct. 1500, 36 L.Ed.2d 177 (1973), and set the case for argument together with Gustafson v. Florida, 414 U.S. 260, 94 S.Ct. 488, 38 L.Ed.2d 456, also decided today.

On April 23, 1968, at approximately 11 p.m., Officer Richard Jenks, a 15-year veteran of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department, observed the respondent driving a 1965 Cadillac near the intersection of 8th and C Streets, N.E., in the District of Columbia. Jenks, as a result of previous investigation following a check of respondent's operator's permit four days earlier, determined there was reason to believe that respondent was operating a motor vehicle after the revocation of his operator's permit. This is an offense defined by statute in the District of Columbia which carries a mandatory minimum jail term, a mandatory minimum fine, or both. D.C.Code Ann. § 40—302(d) (1967).

Jenks signaled respondent to stop the automobile, which respondent did, and all three of the occupants emerged from the car. At that point Jenks informed respondent that he was under arrest for 'operating after revocation and obtaining a permit by misrepresentation.' It was assumed by the Court of Appeals, and is conceded by the respondent here, that Jenks had probable cause to arrest respondent, and that he effected a fullcustody arrest.1

In accordance with procedures prescribed in police department instructions, 2 Jenks then began to search respondent. He explained at a subsequent hearing that he was 'face-to-face' with the respondent, and 'placed (his) hands on (the respondent), my righ-hand to his left breast like this (demonstrating) and proceeded to pat him down thus (with the right hand).' During this patdown, Jenks felt an object in the left breast pocket of the heavy coat respondent was wearing, but testified that he 'couldn't tell what it was' and also that he 'couldn't actually tell the size of it.' Jenks then reached into the pocket and pulled out the object, which turned out to be a 'crumpled up cigarette package.' Jenks testified that at this point he still did not know what was in the package:

'As I felt the package I could feel objects in the package but I couldn't tell what they were. . . . I knew they weren't cigarettes.'

The officer then opened the cigarette pack and found 14 gelatin capsules of white powder which he thought to be, and which later analysis proved to be, heroin. Jenks then continued his search of respondent to completion, feeling around his waist and trouser legs, and examining the remaining pockets. The heroin seized from the respondent was admitted into evidence at the trial which resulted in his conviction in the District Court.

The opinion for the plurality judges of the Court of Appeals, written by Judge Wright, the concurring opinion of Chief Judge Bazelon, and the dissenting opinion of Judge Wilkey, concurred in by three judges, gave careful and comprehensive treatment to the authority of a police officer to search the person of one who has been validly arrested and taken into custody. We conclude that the search conducted by Jenks in this case did not offend the limits imposed by the Fourth Amendment, and we therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.


It is well settled that a search incident to a lawful arrest is a traditional exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment. This general exception has historically been formulated into two distinct propositions. The first is that a search may be made of the person of the arrestee by virtue of the lawful arrest. The second is that a search may be made of the area within the control of the arrestee.

Examination of this Court's decisions shows that these two propositions have been treated quite differently. The validity of the search of a person incident to a lawful arrest has been regarded as settled from its first enunciation, and has remained virtually unchallenged until the present case. The validity of the second proposition, while likewise conceded in principle, has been subject to differing interpretations as to the extent of the area which may be searched.

Because the rule requiring exclusion of evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment was first enunciated in Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383, 34 S.Ct. 341, 58 L.Ed. 652 (1914), it is understandable that virtually all of this Court's search-and-seizure law has been developed since that time. In Weeks, the Court made clear its recognition of the validity of a search incident to a lawful arrest:

'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. This right has been uniformly maintained in many cases. 1 Bishop on Criminal Procedure, § 211; Wharton, Crim.Plead. and Practice, 8th ed., § 60; Dillon v. O'Brien and Davis, 16 Cox C.C. 245.' Id., at 392, 34 S.Ct. at 344.

Agnello v. United States, 269 U.S. 20, 46 S.Ct. 4, 70 L.Ed. 145 (1925), decided 11 years after Weeks, repeats the categorical recognition of the validity of a search incident to lawful arrest:

'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 size 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.' Id., at 30, 46 S.Ct. at 5.

Throughout the series of cases in which the Court has addressed the second proposition relating to a search incident to a lawful arrest—the permissible area beyond the person of the arrestee which such a search may cover—no doubt has been expressed as to the unqualified authority of the arresting authority to search the person of the arrestee. E.g., Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 45 S.Ct. 280, 69 L.Ed. 543 (1925); Marron v. United States, 275 U.S. 192, 48 S.Ct. 74, 72 L.Ed. 231 (1927); Go-Bart Co. v. United States, 282 U.S. 344, 51 S.Ct. 153, 75 L.Ed. 374 (1931); United States v. Lefkowitz, 285 U.S. 452, 52 S.Ct. 420, 76 L.Ed. 877 (1932); Harris v. United States, 331 U.S. 145, 67 S.Ct. 1098, 91 L.Ed. 1399 (1947)...

To continue reading

Request your trial
3401 cases
  • People v. Laiwa, Cr. 21900
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • July 29, 1981
    ...782 and Chimel v. California (1969) 395 U.S. 752, 762-763, 89 S.Ct. 2034, 2039-40, 23 L.Ed.2d 685.) In United States v. Robinson (1973) 414 U.S. 218, 94 S.Ct. 467, 38 L.Ed.2d 427 the Supreme Court (hewed to a straightforward rule, easily applied, and predictably enforced: '(I)n the case of ......
  • In re Arturo D., No. S085213
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • January 24, 2002
    ...search for contraband that would be permissible pursuant to a search incident to a custodial arrest (United States v. Robinson (1973) 414 U.S. 218, 94 S.Ct. 467, 38 L.Ed.2d 427 [search of person, incident to custodial arrest]; New York v. Belton (1981) 453 U.S. 454, 101 S.Ct. 2860, 69 L.Ed.......
  • People v. Hill
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • November 12, 1974
    ...of officers occur when they are engaged in making routine traffic stops and investigations (see United States v. Robinson (1973) 414 U.S. 218, at p. 234, fn. 5, 94 S.Ct. 467, 38 L.Ed.2d 427). The desperate attempt by Hill and Schnabel to avoid apprehension was sufficient to give rise to the......
  • People v. Fayed
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • April 2, 2020
    ...S.Ct. 1943, 164 L.Ed.2d 650.) One such exception, as relevant here, is a search incident to arrest. ( United States v. Robinson (1973) 414 U.S. 218, 224, 94 S.Ct. 467, 38 L.Ed.2d 427.) Another exception, also relevant here, is the inevitable discovery exception. ( Nix v. Williams (1984) 467......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
63 books & journal articles
  • The Supreme Court giveth and the Supreme Court taketh away: the century of Fourth Amendment "search and seizure" doctrine.
    • United States
    • Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Vol. 100 No. 3, June 2010
    • June 22, 2010
    ...the House of Representatives Proposing a Bill of Rights, June 8, 1789). (1) 232 U.S. 383 (1914). (2) See, e.g., United States v. Robinson, 414 U.S. 218, 224 (1973) ("Because the rule requiring exclusion of evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment was first enunciated in Weeks ......
    • United States
    • Harvard Journal of Law & Technology Vol. 34 No. 2, March 2021
    • March 22, 2021
    ...U.S. 373, 388 (2014). Prior to Riley, the Court had recognized other exceptions to the warrant requirement. See United States v. Robinson, 414 U.S. 218, 218 (1973) (holding that a warrant is not required for a search incident to a lawful arrest). (127.) A Stingray's capability to search for......
  • The warrantless interception of e-mail: Fourth Amendment search or free rein for the police?
    • United States
    • Rutgers Computer & Technology Law Journal Vol. 36 No. 2, June 2010
    • June 22, 2010
    ...arrestee might seek to use to resist arrest or to escape"); New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454, 457-58 (1981); United States v. Robinson, 414 U.S. 218, 234 (1973) (noting the importance of "the need to disarm the suspect in order to take him into custody" in defining the search incident to ar......
  • Probable cause and reasonable suspicion: arrests, seizures, stops and frisks
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Suppressing Criminal Evidence - 2020 Contents
    • July 31, 2020
    ...of items on persons are permissible when incident to a lawful arrest. Chimel v. California , 395 U.S. 752 (1969); U.S. v. Robinson , 414 U.S. 218 (1973). The search is to be contemporaneous with the arrest. Chimel, id.; however, a search which immediately precedes an arrest is lawful ( Rawl......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT