Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752 (1969)

One afternoon in 1965, three police officers arrived at Chimel’s California home with a warrant authorizing them to arrest Chimel for the burglary of a coin shop. Chimel’s wife ushered them in, where they waited for 10 or 15 minutes before Chimel arrived home from work. When he arrived, one of the officers handed him the arrest warrant and asked if they could look around. Chimel objected, but the officer advised him that on the basis of the lawful arrest they would nevertheless conduct a search. The officers did not have a search warrant.
Accompanied by Chimel’s wife, the officers searched the entire three-bedroom house, including the attic, the garage, and a workshop. In two of the rooms, the officers had Chimel’s wife open drawers and physically move contents so that they “might view any items that would have come from the burglary.” The officers seized a number of items: primarily coins, but also several medals, tokens, and other objects. The entire search took between 45 minutes and an hour. At Chimel’s trial, these items were admitted as evidence against him over his objection that they had been unconstitutionally seized. He was convicted, and the conviction was affirmed by both the California Court of Appeals and the California Supreme Court. Both courts conceded that the arrest warrant was invalid because it was set forth in conclusory terms, but that because the officers had procured it in good faith and their actions were based on probable cause, the arrest was nevertheless lawful. Therefore, the courts found that the search incident to the valid arrest was justified.
The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari; it accepted the California courts’ findings that the arrest was valid, and it considered only whether the warrantless search of Chimel’s house could be constitutionally justified as a search incident to that arrest. In its decision, the Supreme Court reversed the California Supreme Court. The Court began its analysis by reciting the progression of case law leading from the limited suggestion found in the dicta of Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383 (1914), which upheld the search of the person incident to a lawful arrest, to the expansive holdings of Harris v. United States, 331 U.S. 145 (1947).
Both Harris and United States v. Rabinowitz, 339 U.S. 56 (1950), extended the search incident to the surroundings within the person’s possession or control. It was upon these cases that the state had relied in its argument that the search was lawful. The dubious progression of these cases led the Supreme Court to find that the doctrine as pronounced in Rabinowitz could withstand neither historical nor rational analysis. The warrant requirement serves a high function, protecting privacy from government invasion as guaranteed in the Fourth Amendment. The Court affirmed that 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 an escape. It is also reasonable, the court held, for the arresting officer to search for and seize any evidence on the arrestee’s person in order to prevent its concealment or destruction. The area into which an arrestee might reach in order to grab a weapon or evidentiary items is also governed by a like rule: a gun on a table or in a drawer in front of the arrestee. The court explicitly overruled Harris and Rabinowitz, however, to the extent that those cases allowed officers to engage in warrantless searches not justified by probable cause. Here, the search went far beyond Chimel’s person and the area from within which he might have obtained a weapon or some piece of evidence that could have incriminated him. The Court held that this search was unlawful and reversed Chimel’s convictions.
Mr. Justice Harlan concurred in the opinion but questioned the Court’s overruling of Harris and Rabinowitz, expressing concern about the workability of the expanded warrant system inherent in the majority’s opinion. Justice White, joined by Justice Black, dissented. The dissent expressed concern that Fourth Amendment jurisprudence was changing all too rapidly, and that it would be unwise to abandon the latest rulings in this area. Like the concurrence, the dissent argued that the holding in this case, and the explicit overruling of Harris and Rabinowitz, would unreasonably require police to leave the scene of an arrest in order to obtain a search warrant when they may already have probable cause. It argued that Chimel’s life and privacy had already been disrupted by the arrest; the officers’ subsequent search of his premises was a “relatively minor intrusion.” The dissent held with the most recent cases: once probable cause exists, the fact that there is no warrant does not make a search incident to a lawful arrest unreasonable or unlawful, and the dissent did not limit this holding, as did the majority, to a search only of the person and the immediate and accessible surroundings.

Civil service laws

Civil service laws dominate public employment in the United States. The principles of selection based on merit and of the personal accountability of government employees on which these laws rest may conflict with personal privacy. Therefore, courts and government officials have struggled to accommodate civil service laws with personal privacy.
Based in part of reforms in New York state, the Civil Service Reform Act of 1883 created the modern federal civil service. Civil service in the federal government and in the states rests on selection by competitive examination and on protections for career employees from arbitrary personnel actions. Civil service laws implicate issues regarding the protection of the personal privacy of public employees. Some concerns about privacy arise from the selection of public employees. For example, the interests of the public employer in hiring some categories of public employees, such as police officers, may outweigh the privacy interests of employees. Private information sought could include medical and psychological information; polygraph tests; financial information; and information regarding drinking, gambling, and arrest records, including those of relatives. In some instances, the interests of the public employer in the selection of categories of public employees can outweigh even strong interests in privacy.
Selection procedures often require inquiry into the past conduct of persons seeking government employment, conduct that reflects on their honesty, integrity, and qualifications. This inquiry requires the cooperation of persons with information about these candidates. Privacy provisions, however, such as those in the Privacy Act of 1974,give persons access to records about themselves. Such access reduces the likelihood that third persons will candidly respond to inquiries. Therefore, the
Privacy Act of 1974 contains an exemption from its access provisions for investigatory material compiled for the purpose of determining the suitability, eligibility, and qualifications for civilian federal employment. This exemption, however, only protects a confidential source providing information under an express promise of confidentiality.
Some concerns about privacy arise from the principle of personal accountability in civil service laws. Civil service laws hold employees accountable through the investigation and punishment of misconduct and poor performance. Such accountability implicates personal privacy. For example, the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures applies to government employees. Depending upon the circumstances, a public employee may have a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding the workplace. The Supreme Court, however, has dispensed with the requirement of a warrant based on probable cause in public employment. Instead, the Court decided that all work-related searches of public employers need only meet the standard of reasonable under all the circumstances.
Moreover, the Supreme Court permits some searches without a suspicion of wrongdoing by a specific public employee. For example, the Court has approved random drug testing of categories of employees whose use of illegal drugs pose particular risks. Examples of such categories of employees include customs employees seeking transfer or promotion to positions involving drug interdiction, employees carrying firearms, guards, police, employees flying or maintaining aircraft, chemical and nuclear workers, firefighters, and motor vehicle operators.
Statutory provisions, like the Privacy Act of 1974, may affect the conduct of investigations of federal employees. The act provides that to “the extent practicable,” information be acquired from the subject of an inquiry. This requirement encourages managers to seek information from employees first. In some cases, however, it is not practicable to do so because the inquiry would alert employees to an ongoing investigation.
Because the Privacy Act of 1974 gives persons the right to access and review records regarding them, this right may influence civil service investigations. Although access and review help guarantee the accuracy of government information identified with a particular person, these rights may also give employees premature access to investigative files and may identify witnesses. The exemptions to the act temper interference with civil service discipline. Exemptions to the right of access and review regarding criminal investigations or regarding information compiled in the reasonable anticipation of “a civil action or civil proceedings” are likely to apply to many civil service investigations.
Accountability may require dissemination to the public of information regarding the misconduct, performance, and punishment of public employees. Particularly when the misconduct is egregious or places the public at risk, disclosures assure the public of the integrity and effectiveness of the civil service. This assurance supports public confidence and trust in the operations of government. These disclosures, however, may also threaten privacy.

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