Chimel v. California
Chimel v. California
Since the beginning of it existence American Constitution and Bill of Rights have experienced various amendments and additions. With the course of time the US legal system was improving by modification of its structure and interpretation. Its evolution has been gone through alteration influenced by the prominent cases that draw attention on the specific omissions in the text of the law. One of the cases that leaded to a new ruling within the framework of search and seizure was Chimel v. California.
The main protection of the citizens’ property is guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment that, in its own term, is known for its ambiguity and difficult interpretation. Still the Supreme Court has realized that the Fourth Amendment is the main stronghold of the search and seizure law only in length of time. To understand the meaning of the Fourth Amendment it is important to refer to history. After the American Revolution the Constitution was elaborated, but a lot of the states did not have the intention to accept it without Bill of Rights. With the time, ten Amendments were created and added to the Bill of Rights in 1791. The Fourth Amendment has evoked arguing among the Congress about its content and meaning. According to McWhirter, the text of the Fourth Amendment was ratified as following:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. (3)
As one can see, the content of the Fourth Amendment is rather vague; there are no specifications of when and in what cases the seizures and searches can be executed. That fact made the Supreme Court to develop different approaches in interpretation of the Fourth Amendment. “The standards governing searches incident to valid arrests have also fluctuated considerably over the years in the decisions of the Supreme Court.”(Cortner, 84) The main issue is there is no designation of the specific occasions what places is the subject of searches and arrests and when a warrant is required. The case that had specified the frames of the search and seizure law was Chimel v. California.
An overview of the subject matter will help to emphasize the main drawbacks of the search and seizure procedures. The case had occurred in Santa Ana, California in 1965. Ted Chimel was a suspect in the matter of burglary of a coin shop. Obtaining the arrest warrant police officers came to the place of residence of the estimated suspect. Ted Chimel was away while his wife had opened the door for police officers. After arriving of Chimel from work the officers showed the arrest warrant and asked the suspect to search the house. He refused the officers’ request. In spite of the denial of the suspect to execute the search the police searched the house and adjoining territory. It is crucial to admit that the officers did not have a specific search warrant which became the main issue of the case. After searching a suspect the police decided to search not only the nearby space of Ted Chimel, but to look through all the territory of the house including an attic and a small workshop. In some places they asked the suspect’s wife to assist while pulling out the drawers and pushing back the clothes. The result of the search was a number of coins and tokens that were seized as evidence. After Ted Chimel was convicted of burglary by the California Court of Appeal he pledged to Supreme Court on the grounds of unconstitutionally conducted search warrant. It is important to note that both courts had declared the arrest warrant ungrounded, but at the same time, on the grounds of possible reasons for the arrest, it was accepted as lawful. The main discussion was raised by the question of necessity of the search of the entire house of Ted Chimel without obtaining a search warrant by the police officers.
After the debates, the Supreme Court stated that the search of the place of Chimel’s residence was unreasonable. They had determined the specific incidents where the search would be valid and did not require a certain warrant. The judges stated that a police officer has reasons to search a person for the possible weapon that can threaten his/her life or the people around. An officer has also have grounds to search the area nearby an arrestee or the space where he/she can reach for the possible weapon. It is also possible to search a room where a suspect locates at the moment. At the same time, it is not legal to conduct a search of the other rooms or the nearby territory without a search warrant. The Court had admitted that the officers received the denial from the arrestee for searching the house, but resisted the forbiddance and conducted the search at their discretion.
Earlier the California Court of Appeal declared both the arrest and the search lawful and reasonable on the grounds of facts and arguments that the search was indispensable. The search was called a measure of caution as it was supposed a wife of the suspect could hide or get rid of the evidence seized in the process of the search. In its own turn, the Supreme Court invalidated the decision of the Court of Appeal of declaring a search warrant reasonable. It was argued that a search without warrant was unnecessary in this case and instead of looking around the house the police officers could use the other precautions to avoid the destruction of the possible evidence. It was admitted that the police could have leave one officer in the place of the suspect’s residence and ask for the search warrant. Still, this decision of declaring a search unreasonable was not unanimous. There were concerns that such ruling would influence and tangle the future procedures of obtaining search warrants by the police. The main issue was to prevent of the possible concealment of the evidence by the third party.
Ted Chimney’s attorney has admitted that the police officers decided to conduct the arrest at home of the suspect for their particular reasons. “The petitioner correctly points out that one result of decisions such like this is to give law enforcement officials the opportunity to engage in searches not justified by probable cause, by the simple expedient of arranging to arrest suspects at home rather than elsewhere.”(Chimel v. California. No. 770. Supreme Ct. of the US. 23 June 1969) According to this statement the attorney admits the possible speculation of the law enforcement to conduct unreasonable searches without getting a necessary warrant.
The aftermath of this case was a specific rule that corrected and add some specific instructions of the search and seizure procedures, and namely that a police officer can search an arrestee and the nearby space for the possible weapon to prevent the harm. The search of the area not controlled by the suspect at the moment of arrest cannot be conducted without a specific warrant and have to be declared unlawful. This correction is nowadays known as a Chimel rule and is used in the similar cases to prevent the obstruction of justice and protection of the private property and personal space of the citizens.
Chimel v. California. No. 770. Supreme Ct. of the US. 23 June 1969.
Cortner, Richard C. The Supreme Court and Civil Liberties Policy. Palo Alto, CA: Mayfield Publishing, 1975. Print.
McWhirter, Darien A. Search, Seizure and Privacy. Phoenix: Oryx Press, 1994. Print.
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