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]

In most cases, a search warrant pursuant to the Fourth Amendment is required to perform a lawful search;[2] an exception to this requirement is SITA.[3]

Related case law[edit]


  • In Harris v. United States (1947),[4] the United States Supreme Court held that a law enforcement 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 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.[6]


  • 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."[7]


  • Maryland v. Buie (1990) – The U.S. Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment permits a properly limited protective sweep in conjunction with an in-home arrest when the searching officer possesses a reasonable belief based on specific and articulable facts that the area to be swept harbors an individual posing a danger to those on the arrest scene.[8]


  • Arizona v. Gant (2009) – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement officers can search automobiles 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.[9]


  • Missouri v. McNeely (2013) The United States Supreme Court ruled that police must generally obtain a warrant before subjecting a drunken-driving suspect to a blood test, and that the natural metabolism of blood alcohol does not establish a per se exigency that would justify a blood draw without consent.
  • 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."[1] In other words, unless an exigent circumstance is present, police may not search an arrestee's cell phone without a warrant.
  • Birchfield v. North Dakota (2016) - The U.S. Supreme Court held that for driving under the influence investigations warrantless breathalyzer tests are permissible under the fourth amendment given that impact on privacy is "slight" while more intrusive blood tests involving piercing the skin are not. In the opinion of the court, the court states that "there must be a limit to the consequences to which motorists may be deemed to have consented by virtue of a decision to drive on public roads" under implied consent laws and "that motorists could be deemed to have consented to only those conditions that are 'reasonable' in that they have a 'nexus' to the privilege of driving".[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Riley v. California, 573 U.S. (United States Supreme Court 2014).
  2. ^ Larson, Aaron (2 February 2017). "What are Your Fourth Amendment Rights". ExpertLaw. Retrieved 11 September 2017.
  3. ^ Kerr, Orin (14 December 2010). "The Origins of the 'Search Incident to Arrest' Exception". Volokh Conspiracy. Retrieved 11 September 2017.
  4. ^ "Harris v. United States, 536 US 545, 122 S. Ct. 2406, 153 L. Ed. 2d 524 (2002)". Google Scholar. Google. Retrieved 11 September 2017.
  5. ^ United States v. Rabinowitz, 339 U.S. 56 (1950).
  6. ^ Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752 (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.").
  7. ^ United States v. Robinson, 414 U.S. 218 (United States Supreme Court 1973).
  8. ^ "Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325 (1990)". Justia. Retrieved 15 March 2019.
  9. ^ Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332 (United States Supreme Court 2009).
  10. ^ "Birchfield v. North Dakota, Opinion of the Court" (PDF). pp. 33, 36–37 (38, 41–42 of pdf). Retrieved 2 September 2017.

Further reading[edit]