Searches incident to a lawful arrest

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Search incident to a lawful arrest, commonly known as search incident to arrest (SITA) or the Chimel rule, is a legal principle that allows police to perform a warrantless search of an arrested person, and the area within the arrestee’s immediate control, in the interest of officer safety, the prevention of escape, and the destruction of evidence.[1][2]

In most cases, a search warrant pursuant to the Fourth Amendment is required to perform a lawful search; an exception to this requirement is SITA.[3] In Harris v. United States (1947), the United States Supreme Court held that an officer was permitted to perform a warrantless search during or immediately after a lawful arrest of the arrestee and their premises, regardless of what the arrest was for. In United States v. Rabinowitz (1950), the court narrowed its ruling to searches of the area within the arrestee's "immediate control."[4] In Chimel v. California (1969), the Court further limited the exception to the person arrested and the area within their immediate control "in order to remove any weapons that the [arrestee] might seek to use in order to resist arrest or effect his escape" and to prevent the "concealment or destruction" of evidence.[5]

See also[edit]

  • Information privacy law
  • United States v. Robinson (1973) – The U.S. Supreme Court held that "in the case of a lawful custodial arrest a full search of the person is not only an exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment, but is also a reasonable search under that Amendment."[6]
  • Arizona v. Gant (2009) – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the police can search a car following arrest only if the person arrested "could have accessed his car at the time of the search." In other words, if the person arrested could conceivably reach into his car for a weapon, then a search based on officer safety is permitted. Otherwise, the old practice of allowing officers to "search [a car] incident to arrest" is no longer allowed, unless the police have reason to believe the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of arrest.[7]
  • Riley v. California (2014) – The U.S. Supreme Court held that "police generally may not, without a warrant, search digital information on a cell phone seized from an individual who has been arrested."[2] In other words, unless an exigent circumstance is present, police may not search an arrestee's cell phone without a warrant.


  1. ^ O'Connor, T. (2006-05-15). "Search And Seizure: A Guide to Rules, Requirements, Tests, Doctrines, and Exceptions". Archived from the original on 2008-01-02. Retrieved 2006-08-14.  But see Maryland v. Buie'', 494 U.S. 325 (1990) (holding Fourth Amendment permits properly limited protective sweep in conjunction with in-home arrest when searching officer possesses reasonable belief based on specific and articulable facts that area to be swept harbors individual posing danger to those on arrest scene).
  2. ^ a b Riley v. California, 573 U.S. (United States Supreme Court 2014).
  3. ^ Kerr, Orin (2010-12-14) The Origins of the “Search Incident to Arrest” Exception, The Volokh Conspiracy
  4. ^ United States v. Rabinowitz, 339 U.S. 56 (Justia 1950).
  5. ^ Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752 (Justia 1969) (“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 someone 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.”).
  6. ^ United States v. Robinson, 414 U.S. 218 (United States Supreme Court 1973).
  7. ^ Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332 (United States Supreme Court 2009).

Further reading[edit]