Police officers, possessing warrants for appellant's arrest,
were watching the house where he resided. They observed what they
suspected was an exchange of narcotics between a known addict and
appellant outside the house, after appellant had gone into the
house and brought something out to the addict. They arrested
appellant at the front steps and announced that they would search
the house. A search of the then-unoccupied house disclosed
narcotics in a bedroom. The Louisiana Supreme Court, affirming
appellant's conviction for possessing heroin, held that the search
did not violate the Fourth Amendment, as it occurred "in the
immediate vicinity of the arrest" and was "substantially
contemporaneous therewith." Consideration by this Court of the
question of jurisdiction was postponed to the hearing of the case
on the merits.
The warrantless search of appellant's house
violated the Fourth Amendment as made applicable to the States by
the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 399 U. S.
(a) Even if Chimel v. California, 395 U.
, holding that the warrantless search of a house
can be justified as incident to a lawful arrest only if confined to
the area within the arrestee's reach, were given retroactive effect
(a question not decided here), there is no precedent of this Court
to sustain the validity of this search. P. 399 U. S.
(b) If a search of a house is to be upheld as incident to an
arrest, the arrest must take place inside the house. Pp.
399 U. S.
(c) A warrantless search of a dwelling is constitutionally valid
only in "a few specifically established and well delineated
exceptions," none of which the State has shown here, and the search
cannot be justified solely because narcotics, which are easily
destroyed, are involved. Pp. 399 U. S.
Appeal dismissed and certiorari granted; 252 La. 1056, 215
So. 2d 811
, reversed and remanded.
Page 399 U. S. 31
MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.
The appellant, Donald Vale, was convicted in a Louisiana court
on a charge of possessing heroin and was sentenced as a multiple
offender to 15 years' imprisonment at hard labor. The Louisiana
Supreme Court affirmed the conviction, rejecting the claim that
evidence introduced at the trial was the product of an unlawful
search and seizure. 252 La. 1056, 215 So. 2d
. We granted Vale's motion to proceed in forma
postponed consideration of the question of
jurisdiction to the hearing of the case on the merits, and limited
review to the search and seizure question. 396 U.S. 813.
The evidence adduced at the pretrial hearing on a motion to
suppress showed that, on April 24, 1967, officers possessing two
warrants for Vale's arrest and having information that he was
residing at a specified address proceeded there in an unmarked car
and set up a surveillance of the house. The evidence of what then
Page 399 U. S. 32
place was summarized by the Louisiana Supreme Court as
"After approximately 15 minutes, the officers observed a green
1958 Chevrolet drive up and sound the horn and after backing into a
parking place, again blew the horn. At this juncture, Donald Vale,
who was well known to Officer Brady, having arrested him twice in
the previous month, was seen coming out of the house and walk up to
the passenger side of the Chevrolet where he had a close brief
conversation with the driver; and after looking up and down the
street returned inside of the house. Within a few minutes, he
reappeared on the porch, and again cautiously looked up and down
the street before proceeding to the passenger side of the
Chevrolet, leaning through the window. From this, the officers were
convinced a narcotics sale had taken place. They returned to their
car and immediately drove toward Donald Vale, and, as they reached
within approximately three car's lengths from the accused (Donald
Vale), he looked up and, obviously recognizing the officers, turned
around, walking quickly toward the house. At the same time, the
driver of the Chevrolet started to make his get away when the car
was blocked by the police vehicle. The three officers promptly
alighted from the car, whereupon Officers Soule and Laumann called
to Donald Vale to stop as he reached the front steps of the house,
telling him he was under arrest. Officer Brady, at the same time,
seeing the driver of the Chevrolet, Arizzio Saucier, whom the
officers knew to be a narcotic addict, place something hurriedly in
his mouth, immediately placed him under arrest and joined his
co-officers. Because of the transaction
Page 399 U. S. 33
they had just observed they, informed Donald Vale they were
going to search the house, and thereupon advised him of his
constitutional rights. After they all entered the front room,
Officer Laumann made a cursory inspection of the house to ascertain
if anyone else was present, and, within about three minutes, Mrs.
Vale and James Vale, mother and brother of Donald Vale, returned
home carrying groceries, and were informed of the arrest and
252 La. at. 1067-1068, 215 So. 2d at 815. (Footnote omitted.)
The search of a rear bedroom revealed a quantity of narcotics.
The Louisiana Supreme Court held that the search of the house
did not violate the Fourth Amendment, because it occurred "in the
immediate vicinity of the arrest" of Donald Vale and was
"substantially contemporaneous therewith. . . ." 252 La. at 1070,
215 So. 2d at 816. We cannot agree. Last Term, in Chimel v.
California, 395 U. S. 752
held that, when the search of a dwelling is sought to be justified
as incident to a lawful arrest, it must constitutionally be
confined to the area within the arrestee's reach at the time of his
arrest -- "the area from within which he might gain possession of a
weapon or destructible evidence." 395 U.S. at 395 U. S. 763
But even if Chimel
is not accorded retroactive effect -- a
question on which we do not now express an opinion -- no precedent
of this Court can sustain the constitutional validity of the search
in the case before us.
A search may be incident to an arrest "only if it is
substantially contemporaneous with the arrest and is confined to
the immediate vicinity of the arrest.'" Shipley v.
California, 395 U. S. 818,
395 U. S. 819;
Stoner v. California, 376 U. S. 483,
376 U. S. 486.
If a search of a house is to be upheld
Page 399 U. S. 34
as incident to an arrest, that arrest must take place inside the
house, cf. Agnello v. United States, 269 U. S.
, 269 U. S. 32
not somewhere outside -- whether two blocks away, James v.
Louisiana, 382 U. S. 36
twenty feet away, Shipley v. California, supra,
or on the
sidewalk near the front steps.
"Belief, however well founded, that an article sought is
concealed in a dwelling house furnishes no justification for a
search of that place without a warrant."
Agnello v. United States, supra,
at 269 U. S. 33
That basic rule "has never been questioned in this Court."
Stoner v. California, supra,
at 376 U. S. 487
The Louisiana Supreme Court thought the search independently
supportable because it involved narcotics, which are easily
removed, hidden, or destroyed. It would be unreasonable, the
Louisiana court concluded,
"to require the officers under the facts of the case to first
secure a search warrant before searching the premises, as time is
of the essence inasmuch as the officers never know whether there is
anyone on the premises to be searched who could very easily destroy
252 La. at 1070, 215 So. 2d at 816. Such a rationale could not
apply to the present case, since by their own account the arresting
officers satisfied themselves that no one else was in the house
when they first entered the premises. But entirely apart from that
point, our past decisions make clear that only in "a few
specifically established and well delineated" situations, Katz
v. United States, 389 U. S. 347
389 U. S. 357
may a warrantless search of a dwelling withstand constitutional
scrutiny, even though the authorities have probable cause to
conduct it. The burden rests on the State to show the existence of
such an exceptional situation. Chimel v. California,
at 395 U. S. 762
United States v. Jeffers, 342 U. S.
, 342 U. S. 51
McDonald v. United States, 335 U.
, 335 U. S. 456
And the record before us discloses none.
Page 399 U. S. 35
There is no suggestion that anyone consented to the search.
Cf. Zap v. United States, 328 U.
, 328 U. S. 628
The officers were not responding to an emergency. United States
v. Jeffers, supra,
342 U. S. 52
; McDonald v. United States, supra,
at 335 U. S. 454
They were not in hot pursuit of a fleeing felon. Warden v.
Hayden, 387 U. S. 294
387 U. S.
-299; Chapman v. United States, 365 U.
, 365 U. S. 615
Johnson v. United States, 333 U. S.
, 333 U. S. 15
The goods ultimately seized were not in the process of destruction.
Schmerber v. California, 384 U. S. 757
384 U. S.
-771; United States v. Jeffers, supra; McDonald
v. United States, supra,
at 335 U. S. 455
Nor were they about to be removed from the jurisdiction.
Chapman v. United States, supra; Johnson v. United States,
supra; United States v. Jeffers, supra.
The officers were able to procure two warrants for Vale's
arrest. They also had information that he was residing at the
address where they found him. There is thus no reason, so far as
anything before us appears, to suppose that it was impracticable
for them to obtain a search warrant as well. Cf. McDonald v.
United States, supra,
at 335 U. S.
-455; Trupiano v. United States,
334 U. S. 699
334 U. S.
-706; Johnson v. United States, supra; Taylor v.
United States, 286 U. S. 1
286 U. S. 6
Go-Bart Importing Co. v. United States, 282 U.
, 282 U. S. 358
Carroll v. United States, 267 U.
, 267 U. S. 156
cf. Ker v. California, 374 U. S. 23
374 U. S. 42
(opinion of Clark, J.). We decline to hold that an arrest on the
street can provide its own "exigent circumstance" so as to justify
a warrantless search of the arrestee's house.
The Louisiana courts committed constitutional error in admitting
into evidence the fruits of the illegal search. Shipley v.
395 U. S. 819
; James v. Louisiana, supra,
382 U. S. 37
Ker v. California, supra,
at 374 U. S. 30
Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U. S. 643
Accordingly, the judgment is
Page 399 U. S. 36
reversed, and the case is remanded to the Louisiana Supreme
Court for further proceedings not inconsistent with this
It is so ordered.
MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN took no part in the consideration or
decision of this case.
* In his Notice of Appeal, Vale asserted that the Louisiana
Supreme Court in affirming the conviction had relied upon a state
statute, Article 225 of the Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure
(1967), which provides in pertinent part:
"A peace officer making an arrest shall take from the person
arrested all weapons and incriminating articles which he may have
about his person."
Although the state court referred to this statute in the course
of its opinion, we do not understand its decision to be grounded on
the statute. We therefore dismiss the appeal and treat the papers
as a petition for certiorari, which is hereby granted. 28 U.S.C. §
MR. JUSTICE BLACK, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE joins,
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits
only "unreasonable searches."* A warrant has never been thought to
be an absolute requirement for a constitutionally proper search.
Searches, whether with or without a warrant, are to be judged by
whether they are reasonable, and, as I said, speaking for the Court
in Preston v. United States, 376 U.
, 376 U. S.
-367 (1964), common sense dictates that
reasonableness varies with the circumstances of the search.
See, e.g., Henry v. United States, 361 U. S.
(1959); Brinegar v. United States,
338 U. S. 160
(1949). The Louisiana Supreme Court held not only that the police
action here was reasonable, but also that failure to conduct an
immediate search would have been unreasonable. 252 La. 1056, 1070,
So. 2d 811
, 816. With that view I am in complete agreement for
the following reasons.
The police, having warrants for Vale's arrest, were watching his
mother's house from a short distance away. Not long after they
began their vigil, a car arrived,
Page 399 U. S. 37
sounded its horn, and backed into a parking space near the
house. The driver did not get out, but instead honked the car horn
again. Vale, who had been arrested twice the month before and
against whom an indictment for a narcotics offense was then
pending, came out of his mother's house and talked to the driver of
the car. At the conclusion of the conversation, Vale looked both
ways, up and down the street, and then went back inside the house.
When he reappeared, he stopped before going to the car and stood,
as one of the officers testified, "[l]ooking back and forth like to
see who might be coming or who was in the neighborhood." He then
walked to the car and leaned in.
From this behavior, the officers were convinced that a narcotics
transaction was taking place at that very moment. They drove down
the street toward Vale and the parked car. When they came within a
few car lengths of the two men Vale saw them and began to walk
quickly back toward the house. At the same time, the driver of the
car attempted to pull away. The police brought both parties to the
transaction to a stop. They then saw that the driver of the car was
one Saucier, a known narcotics addict. He hurriedly placed
something in his mouth, and apparently swallowed it. The police
placed both Vale and Saucier under arrest.
At this point, the police had probable cause to believe that
Vale was engaged in a narcotics transfer, and that a supply of
narcotics would be found in the house, to which Vale had returned
after his first conversation, from which he had emerged furtively
bearing what the police could readily deduce was a supply of
narcotics, and toward which he hurried after seeing the police. But
the police did not know then who else might be in the house. Vale's
arrest took place near the house, and anyone observing from inside
would surely have been alerted to destroy the stocks of contraband
Page 399 U. S. 38
the police believed Vale had left there. The police had already
seen Saucier, the narcotics addict, apparently swallow what Vale
had given him. Believing that some evidence had already been
destroyed and that other evidence might well be, the police were
faced with the choice of risking the immediate destruction of
evidence or entering the house and conducting a search. I cannot
say that their decision to search was unreasonable. Delay in order
to obtain a warrant would have given an accomplice just the time he
That the arresting officers did, in fact, believe that others
might be in the house is attested to by their actions upon entering
the door left open by Vale. The police at once checked the small
house to determine if anyone else was present. Just as they
discovered the house was empty, however, Vale's mother and brother
arrived. Now what had been a suspicion became a certainty: Vale's
relatives were in possession, and knew of his arrest. To have
abandoned the search at this point and left the house with Vale
would not have been the action of reasonable police officers. As
MR. JUSTICE WHITE said, dissenting in Chimel v.
California, 395 U. S. 752
395 U. S. 775
"For the police to search the house while the evidence they had
probable cause to search out and seize was still there cannot be
In my view, whether a search incident to a lawful arrest is
reasonable should still be determined by the facts and
circumstances of each case. Ker v. California,
374 U. S. 23
374 U. S. 34
(1963); United States v. Rabinowitz, 339 U. S.
, 339 U. S. 63
(1950). For the reasons given above, I am convinced that the search
here was reasonable even though Vale had not yet crossed the
threshold of the house toward which he was headed.
Page 399 U. S. 39
Moreover, the circumstances here were sufficiently exceptional
to justify a search, even if the search was not strictly
"incidental" to an arrest. The Court recognizes that searches to
prevent the destruction or removal of evidence have long been held
reasonable by this Court. Preston v. United States, supra;
McDonald v. United States, 335 U. S. 451
335 U. S. 455
(1948); Carroll v. United States, 267 U.
(1925). Whether the "exceptional circumstances"
justifying such a search exist or not is a question that may be, as
it is here, quite distinct from whether or not the search was
incident to a valid arrest. See United States v. Jeffers,
342 U. S. 48
342 U. S. 51
(1951); Johnson v. United States, 333 U. S.
(1948). It is thus unnecessary to determine whether
the search was valid as incident to the arrest under either
Chimel v. California, supra,
or under the
standard as interpreted in Shipley v.
California, 395 U. S. 818
(1969). It is only necessary to find that, given Vale's arrest in a
spot readily visible to anyone in the house and the probable
existence of narcotics inside, it was reasonable for the police to
conduct an immediate search of the premises.
The Court, however, finds the search here unreasonable. First,
the Court suggests that the contraband was not "in the process of
destruction." None of the cases cited by the Court supports the
proposition that "exceptional circumstances" exist only when the
process of destruction has already begun. On the contrary, we
implied that those circumstances did exist when "evidence or
contraband was threatened
with removal or destruction."
Johnson v. United States, supra,
at 333 U. S. 15
(emphasis added). See also Chapman v. United States,
365 U. S. 610
365 U. S. 615
(1961); Hernandez v. United States,
363 F.2d 624 (C.A. 9th
Cir.1965), cert. denied,
384 U.S. 1008 (1966).
Page 399 U. S. 40
Second, the Court seems to argue that the search was
unreasonable because the police officers had time to obtain a
warrant. I agree that the opportunity to obtain a warrant is one of
the factors to be weighed in determining reasonableness.
Trupiano v. United States, 334 U.
(1948); United States v. Rabinowitz,
at 339 U. S. 66
(BLACK, J., dissenting). But the record conclusively shows that
there was no such opportunity here. As I noted above, once the
officers had observed Vale's conduct in front of the house, they
had probable cause to believe that a felony had been committed and
that immediate action was necessary. At no time after the events in
front of Mrs. Vale's house would it have been prudent for the
officers to leave the house in order to secure a warrant.
The Court asserts, however, that, because the police obtained
two warrants for Vale's arrest, there is "no reason . . . to
suppose that it was impracticable for them to obtain a search
warrant as well." The difficulty is that the two arrest warrants on
which the Court seems to rely so heavily were not issued because of
any present misconduct of Vale's; they were issued because the bond
had been increased for an earlier narcotics charge then pending
against Vale. When the police came to arrest Vale, they knew only
that his bond had been increased. There is nothing in the record to
indicate that, absent the increased bond, there would have been
probable cause for an arrest, much less a search. Probable cause
for the search arose for the first time when the police observed
the activity of Vale and Saucier in and around the house.
I do not suggest that all arrests necessarily provide the basis
for a search of the arrestee's house. In this case, there is far
more than a mere street arrest. The police also observed Vale's use
of the house as a base of operations for his commercial business,
his attempt to
Page 399 U. S. 41
return hurriedly to the house on seeing the officers, and the
apparent destruction of evidence by the man with whom Vale was
dealing. Furthermore, the police arrival and Vale's arrest were
plainly visible to anyone within the house, and the police had
every reason to believe that someone in the house was likely to
destroy the contraband if the search were postponed.
This case raises mot graphically the question how does a
policeman protect evidence necessary to the State if he must leave
the premises to get a warrant, allowing the evidence he seeks to be
destroyed. The Court's answer to that question makes unnecessarily
difficult the conviction of those who prey upon society.
* The Fourth Amendment says:
"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