Chimel v. California

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Chimel v. California
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued March 27, 1969
Decided June 23, 1969
Full case name Ted Chimel v. State of California
Citations 395 U.S. 752 (more)
89 S. Ct. 2034; 23 L. Ed. 2d 685; 1959 U.S. LEXIS 1166
Argument Oral argument
Prior history Certiorari to the Supreme Court of California.
Subsequent history 68 Cal. 2d 436, 439 P.2d 333, reversed.
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. Any other search of the surrounding area requires a search warrant.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Stewart, joined by Warren, Douglas, Harlan, Brennan, Fortas, Marshall
Concurrence Harlan
Dissent White, joined by Black
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. IV
U.S. Const. amend. XIV

Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752 (1969)[1], is a 1969 Supreme Court of the United States case. In Chimel, the Court held that police officers arresting a person at home could not search the entire home without a search warrant, but police may search the area within immediate reach of the person.

The rule on searches incident to a lawful arrest within the home is now known as the Chimel Rule

Ronald M. George, the young deputy attorney general who unsuccessfully argued the State of California's position before the high court, would ultimately serve as Chief Justice of California.


Prior to Chimel, the Court's precedents, such as Riley v. California, permitted an arresting officer to search the area within an arrestee's "possession" and "control" for the purpose of gathering evidence.

Based on the "abstract doctrine," it had sustained searches that extended far beyond an arrestee's grabbing area.


Could the warrantless search of Chimel's entire house be constitutionally justified as incident to his arrest?


The Supreme Court ruled 7–2 in favor of Chimel. It held that the search of Chimel's house was unreasonable under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.

The Court reasoned that searches "incident to arrest" are limited to the area within the immediate control of the suspect. While police could reasonably search and seize evidence on or around the arrestee's person, police were prohibited from rummaging through the entire house without a search warrant. The Court emphasized the importance of warrants and probable cause as necessary bulwarks against government abuse:

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 arrestee 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 similar 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. There is no comparable justification, I 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.

— Justice Stewart, delivering the opinion of the Court

It overturned the trial court conviction by stating that the officers could reasonably search only "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."[1]


In a concurring/dissenting opinion in Riley v. California, citing his dissent in Arizona v. Gant, Justice Alito called Chimel's reasoning "questionable:" "I think it is a mistake to allow that reasoning to affect cases like these that concern the search of the person of arrestees."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752, p. 768 (U.S. Sup. Ct.).

External links[edit]