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 warrant.
  • 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 evidence.
      • 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 warrant.
    • 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 them.
      • 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.