United States v. Robinson 414 U.S. 218, 94 S. Ct. 467, 38 L. Ed.2d 427 (1973)
Robinson was driving his car
when he was spotted by a policeman. The policeman had reason to believe
that Robinson was driving with a suspended license.
The policeman stopped Robinson
and arrested him. He then patted Robinson down and found drugs on him.
Robinson was arrested and charged with drug possession.
That's known as a search
incident to a lawful arrest (SILA).
A small amount of heroin was
found inside of a crumpled cigarette pack that Robinson had in his
The Trial Court convicted
Robinson of drug possession. He appealed.
Robinson conceded that the police
had probable cause to arrest him for driving without a license. However,
he argued that they did not have probable cause to search him for drugs.
If the police had gone to a
magistrate and said, "I believe Robinson is driving without a
license, I'd like a warrant to search him," the magistrate would not
have granted a search warrant.
The Appellate Court reversed.
The prosecutor appealed.
The Appellate Court found
that the drugs had been found as the result of a search which violated
Robinson's 4th Amendment
The US Supreme Court reversed
the Appellate Court and upheld the conviction.
The US Supreme Court noted
that it was well settled law that a search incident to a lawful arrest is a traditional exception to the 4th
The search may be made of
the person of the arrestee by virtue of the lawful arrest.
The search may be only made
of the immediate area within the control of the arrestee.
The Court noted that the
basis for these searches were to disarm the arrestee and to preserve
evidence. Therefore, the search is entirely reasonable, and is not covered by the 4th
As opposed to being just an
exception to the warrant requirement of the 4th Amendment.
The Court noted that
whenever you take someone into custody they might react violently or
attempt to destroy evidence. Therefore it is always reasonable to search
There doesn't need to be individualized
suspicion about the specific
circumstances of the arrest, it is a blanket rule.
Contrast to Richards v.
Wisconsin (520 U.S. 385 (1987)),
where the court rejected the idea of blanket rules.
In a dissent it was argued
that there should be no blanket rule that a search after an arrest is
legal, it should be determined on a case-by-case basis.
The dissent worried that the
police would use minor traffic violations as an excuse to perform
searches that they would otherwise not be allowed to perform because they
had no probable cause.
The dissent noted that if
the purpose was to make sure Robinson was unarmed, the police could have
done so without looking inside a cigarette pack, which is clearly not a
weapon, nor was it evidence of the crime of driving without a license.
The dissent felt that in this case, the policeman went beyond what was
prudent and trespassed into an unnecessary and therefore unlawful search
with no probable cause.
In this case there was no
reasonable reason to assume that Robinson was armed, and there was no
evidence to destroy.