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

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

In Chimel v. California, the Supreme Court addressed the permissible scope of a search incident to a lawful arrest under the Fourth Amendment. After the issuance of an arrest warrant for burglary of a coin shop, police officers arrested Chimel in his home. Over his objection, the police conducted a detailed search of Chimel’s residence, entering every room, opening drawers, and recovering coins and other suspected stolen items. The trial court found that the search was justified because it was incident to a lawful arrest.

The Supreme Court reversed and found this search unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment, holding that a search incident to arrest is limited to the arrestee’s person and the area ‘‘within his immediate control.’’ Justice Stewart’s majority opinion includes a history of the evolving search incident to arrest doctrine, beginning with its apparent inception in Weeks v. United States in 1914. In arriving at the ‘‘immediate control’’ rule, the Court focused on the dual rationale behind allowing police to search in conjunction with an arrest: (1) to ensure officer safety and (2) to prevent the destruction or concealment of evidence. The Court also emphasized the heightened level of intrusion involved in the search of a home.

Justices White and Black dissented, criticizing the ‘‘remarkable instability’’ of this shifting area of law. The dissent argued in favor of the case-by-case ‘‘reasonableness’’ approach previously used by the Court, citing the likelihood of destruction of evidence by a third party while the police obtain a search warrant.

STEPHANIE ROBERTS HARTUNG

References and Further Reading

  • Katz, Lewis R., The Automobile Exception Transformed: The Rise of a Public Place Exemption to the Warrant Requirement, Case W. Res. 36 (1986): 375.
  • Moskovitz, Myron, A Rule in Search of a Reason: An Empirical Reexamination of Chimel and Belton, Wis. L. Rev. 2002 (2002): 657.
  • Rigg, Robert, The Objective Mind and ‘‘Search Incident to Citation, B.U. Pub. Int. L.J. 8 (1999): 281.
  • Salken, Barbara C., Balancing Exigency and Privacy in Warrantless Searches to Prevent Destruction of Evidence: The Need for a Rule, Hastings L. J. 39 (1988): 282.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Agnello v. United States, 269 U.S. 20 (1925)
  • Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132 (1925)
  • Preston v. United States, 376 U.S. 364 (1964)
  • Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968)
  • United States v. Lefkowitz, 285 U.S. 452 (1932)
  • Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383 (1914)

See also Arrest; Exclusionary Rule; New York v. Belton 453 U.S. 454 (1981); Search (General Definition); Seizures; Warrantless Searches

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