Chimel v. California 395 U.S. 752, 89 S. Ct. 2034, 23 L. Ed.2d 685 (1969)
The police suspected Chimel of
robbing a rare coin store. They came to his house to arrest him for
burglary. His wife let them in. When Chimel arrived home, they arrested
him at the front door.
The police asked Chimel for consent
to search the house, which Chimel refused. The police made a search of
his house anyway. They found the rare coins hidden in a bedroom dresser.
He was arrested and charged with burglary.
The police did not have a search
warrant, they only had an arrest
The Trial Court found Chimel
guilty of burglary. He appealed.
Chimel argued that the
evidence was inadmissible because it was an unconstitutional search and
seizure under the 4th Amendment,
because the police did not have a warrant.
The prosecution argued that
the arrest warrant gave the police
the authority to search the entire house.
A search incident to a
lawful arrest (SILA).
The Appellate Court upheld the
conviction. Chimel appealed.
The US Supreme Court reversed
and overturned the conviction.
The US Supreme Court found
that when the police are acting under an arrest warrant, an arresting officer may search only the area
"within the immediate control" of the person arrested, meaning
the area from which he might gain possession of a weapon or destructible
If the police want to
search further, they need a search warrant.
In a dissent, it was argued
that it would have been impractical for the police to drive all the way to
Chimel's house, take him back to the police station, apply for a search
warrant, and then drive all the way back to execute the search.
Especially since it was
possible that Chimel's wife, left alone in the house, would chose to get
rid of the evidence.
The basic rule is that if the
police are acting on an arrest warrant,
they are limited to searching the suspect to make sure that he doesn't
have a weapon or that he doesn't have evidence on him that he can destroy.
Anything beyond that requires a search warrant.
If this rule wasn't in
effect, then there would be the risk that the police would arrange to
arrest a suspect in their home (as opposed to elsewhere) and use that
arrest as an excuse to search the home without probable cause or a search
In this case, Chimel was
sitting by the front door in handcuffs. There was no way he could have
destroyed evidence in a bedroom dresser.
Prior to this decision, the
courts had generally allowed a search to assume that the area within the
immediate control was the entire house. But those cases involved smaller
houses. Here, the Court decided to change the rule to limit it.
See Rabinowitz (339 U.S. 50 (1950)) (a one-room office)
See Harris (331 U.S. 145 (1947)) (a 4 room apartment)
If the police arrest someone
in their home, there is another exception allowing them to do a protective
sweep so they can look into adjoining
areas for places where a person might be lurking and preparing to attack
There is no need for
reasonable suspicion to perform a protective sweep.
If there is reasonable
suspicion (like they hear a noise) that there is a threat in a
non-adjoining area, the police can check it out. But they can only look
in places large enough for a person to be hiding