search incident to arrest | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee


Course: Introduction / Procedural Law / Policing

A Search Incident to Arrest is a constitutionally permissible search of a person and his or her immediate surroundings at the time of arrest, also called the Chimel rule.

See also Chimel v. California (1969)

A search incident to arrest, also known as the Chimel rule, is a search that is constitutionally permissible and occurs at the time of an arrest. This type of search allows police officers to search a person and their immediate surroundings, which is defined as the area within the arrestee’s immediate control, without obtaining a warrant. The search is conducted to ensure the safety of the arresting officers and to prevent the arrestee from destroying evidence.

The Supreme Court first articulated the Chimel rule in the landmark case of Chimel v. California (1969). In that case, the Court held that the scope of a search incident to arrest is limited to the area within the arrestee’s immediate control. The Court reasoned that this type of search is necessary to protect officers and prevent the destruction of evidence, but it should not be used as a pretext for a general search of the arrestee’s property.

In subsequent cases, the Court has further defined and refined the scope of a search incident to arrest. For example, in Arizona v. Gant (2009), the Court held that police officers may only search the passenger compartment of a vehicle incident to arrest if the arrestee is unsecured and within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search, or if it is reasonable to believe that evidence of the offense for which the person was arrested might be found in the vehicle.

It is important to note that while a search incident to arrest does not require a warrant, it must be conducted within certain limits. The search must be limited to the area within the arrestee’s immediate control and must be conducted immediately following the arrest. Any evidence discovered outside of these limits may be suppressed under the Fourth Amendment’s exclusionary rule.

Overall, a search incident to arrest is an important tool for law enforcement in ensuring their safety and preventing the destruction of evidence. However, it is subject to certain limitations to protect the rights of the arrestee and ensure that the search does not become a pretext for a general search of the arrestee’s property.

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Last Modified: 04/08/2023


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