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Chimel v. California

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Significance: The Supreme Court held that when a valid arrest is made, the Fourth Amendment permits the police to search the arrested person and the area “within his immediate control,” but not any additional area.


Using an arrest warrant, the police arrested Ted Chimel at his home on burglary charges. Ignoring Chimel's objections, the police then conducted a search of the entire house and discovered stolen property that provided the basis for Chimel's conviction. Rejecting Chimel's appeal, the California courts noted that the Supreme Court had upheld a similar warrantless search incident to an arrest in United States v. Rabinowitz (1950). By a 6-2 vote, the Court ruled Chimel's trial unconstitutional and overruled Rabinowitz. Speaking for the majority, Justice Potter Stewart recognized that it was reasonable for the police to search the person arrested in order to remove any concealed weapons and to prevent the concealment or destruction of evidence. Likewise, the police had a legitimate reason to search the area into which an arrestee might reach for a weapon. The Court applied the Chimel rationale to allow more extensive searches during arrests when justified by exigent circumstances. In Maryland v. Buie (1990), for instance, the Court approved of a protective sweep of a home believed to harbor an individual posing a danger to the arrest scene.