Police suspected that Chimel had robbed a rare coin store and came to his house with a warrant to arrest him. Police asked for Chimel’s consent in searching the home, despite Chimel’s refusal, they searched it and found missing coins, connecting Chimel to the crime. In court, Chimel argued that the search was unreasonable because officers had an arrest warrant, not a search warrant. The trial court convicted Chimel, which the appellate court upheld. The Supreme Court reversed the appellate court’s decision and ruled that when police have an arrest warrant, they cannot search beyond what is in “immediate control”, which is considered the area that a suspect could access and use a weapon or destroy evidence. To search further than what is in the vicinity of the suspect, the officers must obtain a search warrant to be consistent with the Constitution. Otherwise, police could use arrest warrants to search a premises without proving the same level of probable cause, search warrants are checks against government abuses. Whereas before Chimel lower courts would have varying definitions on what is in “immediate control”, this case limits the vicinity from the entire house or property to what is immediately surrounding the suspect. One exception to this rule is that of the “protective sweep”, which allows officers to look around a property to make sure that no dangers are lurking, nothing can be moved except objects blocking a large space where a person could be hiding.

Chimel v. California

Chimel v. California

Chimel v. California

Chimel v. California

Chimel v. California

395 US 752 (1969)

(SILA of Surrounding Area)


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." After completing the search, they seized numerous items -- primarily coins, but also several medals, tokens, and a few other objects. The entire search took between 45 minutes and an hour.


Whether the warrantless search of the petitioner's entire house can be constitutionally justified as incident to that arrest.      


There is no comparable justification, however, for routinely searching any room other than that in which an arrest occurs -- or, for that matter, for searching through all the desk drawers or other closed or concealed areas in that room itself. Such searches, in the absence of well-recognized exceptions, may be made only under the authority of a search warrant. The "adherence to judicial processes"mandated by the Fourth Amendment requires no less.

"The rule allowing contemporaneous searches is justified, for example, by the need to seize weapons and other things which might be used to assault an officer or effect an escape, as well as by the need to prevent the destruction of evidence of the crime -- things which might easily happen where the weapon or evidence is on the accused's person or under his immediate control. But these justifications are absent where a search is remote in time or place from the arrest."

Although "the recurring questions of the reasonableness of searches"depend upon "the facts and circumstances -- the total atmosphere of the case,"those facts and circumstances must be viewed in the light of established Fourth Amendment principles.

The search here went far beyond the petitioner's person and the area from within which he might have obtained either a weapon or something that could have been used as evidence against him. There was no constitutional justification, in the absence of a search warrant, for extending the search beyond that area."                   


Key Takeaway

Police can search the person and immediate area of the person (one lunge rule) being lawfully arrested (Search Incident to Lawful Arrest, or SILA) in order to protect the officers and prevent the destruction of evidence.

Court Syllabus

Police officers, armed with an arrest warrant but not a search warrant, were admitted to petitioner's home by his wife, where they awaited petitioner's arrival. When he entered he was served with the warrant. Although he denied the officers' request to "look around," they conducted a search of the entire house "on the basis of the lawful arrest." At petitioner's trial on burglary charges, items taken from his home were admitted over objection that they had been unconstitutionally seized. His conviction was affirmed by the California appellate courts, which held, despite their acceptance of petitioner's contention that the arrest warrant was invalid, that since the arresting officers had procured the warrant "in good faith," and since in any event they had had sufficient information to constitute probable cause for the arrest, the arrest was lawful. The courts also held that the search was justified as incident to a valid arrest. Held: Assuming the arrest was valid, the warrantless search of petitioner's house cannot be constitutionally justified as incident to that arrest.

(a) An arresting officer may search the arrestee's person to discover and remove weapons and to seize evidence to prevent its concealment or destruction, and may search 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.

How the Justices Voted

Majority: Stewart, joined by Warren, Douglas, Harlan, Brennan, Fortas, Marshall

Concurrence: Harlan

Dissent: White, joined by Black


There was no constitutional justification, in the absence of a search warrant, for extending the search beyond that area. The scope of the search was, therefore, "unreasonable" under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.