Thursday, September 12, 1996

US Supreme Court Chimel v. California 770

Decided June 23, 1969

   Officers went to Chimel's home with a warrant to arrest him for burglary.  Chimel's wife allowed them into the house, where they waited for him to arrive.  When he did, they arrested him and asked if they could look around.  He objected, but they searched the entire house anyway, incident to his arrest.  No search warrant was obtained.  Evidence from the search was introduced at trial, and Chimel was convicted.

   The Supreme Court overturned some of its own various precedents regarding search incident to arrest in this case holding that:

When an arrest is made, it is reasonable for the arresting officer to search the person arrested in order to remove any weapons that the latter might seek to use in order to resist arrest or effect his escape. Otherwise, the officer's safety might well be endangered, and the arrest itself frustrated. In addition, it is entirely reasonable for the arresting officer to search for and seize any evidence on the arrestee's person in order to prevent its concealment or destruction. And the area into which an arrestee might reach in order to grab a weapon or evidentiary items must, of course, be governed by a like rule. A gun on a table or in a drawer in front of one who is arrested can be as dangerous to the arresting officer as one concealed in the clothing of the person arrested. There is ample justification, therefore, for a search of the arrestee's person and the area "within his immediate control"—construing that phrase to mean the area from within which he might gain possession of a weapon or destructible evidence.

There is no comparable justification, however, for routinely searching any room other than that in which an arrest occurs—or, for that matter, for searching through all the desk drawers or other closed or concealed areas in that room itself. Such searches, in the absence of well-recognized exceptions, may be made only under the authority of a search warrant. The "adherence to judicial processes" mandated by the Fourth Amendment requires no less.

   The evidence was suppressed, and Chimel's conviction overturned.