The relevant facts are essentially undisputed. Late in the afternoon of September 13, 1965, three police officers arrived at the Santa Ana, California, home of the petitioner with a warrant authorizing his arrest for the burglary of a coin shop. The officers knocked on the door, identified themselves to the petitioner’s wife, and asked if they might come inside. She ushered them into the house, where they waited 10 or 15 minutes until the petitioner returned home from work. When the petitioner entered the house, one of the officers handed him the arrest warrant and asked for permission to “look around.” The petitioner objected, but was advised that, “on the basis of the lawful arrest,” the officers would nonetheless conduct a search. No search warrant had been issued.
Accompanied by the petitioner’s wife, the officers then looked through the entire three-bedroom house, including the attic, the garage, and a small workshop. In some rooms, the search was relatively cursory. In the master bedroom and sewing room, however, the officers directed the petitioner’s wife to open drawers and “to physically move contents of the drawers from side to side so that [they] might view any items that would have come from [the] burglary.”
When a man is legally arrested for an offense, whatever is found upon his person or in his control which it is unlawful for him to have and which may be used to prove the offense may be seized and held as evidence in the prosecution.
SEARCH INCIDENT TO ARREST: 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.
Chimel v. California, 395 US 752 (1969).
Full case here: https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/395/752/#tab-opinion-1948123
Anton Vialtsin, Esq.
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