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Robinson, United States v. 414 U.S. 218 (1973)

ROBINSON, UNITED STATES v. 414 U.S. 218 (1973)

The Supreme Court here resolved the question whether the fourth amendment permits a full search of the person incident to arrest for a minor offense. This question is particularly acute in cases of traffic offenses, where police commonly make arrests in order to search drivers and their automobiles.

In Robinson the police stopped an automobile and arrested its driver for operating the vehicle without a license. A search of his clothing uncovered heroin. Because searches incident to arrest are allowed for the purpose of discovering concealed weapons and evidence, Robinson's counsel argued that such searches are unjustified in connection with routine traffic arrests: they will seldom yield evidence related to the traffic offense itself, and the chances of the driver's being armed are usually minimal.

The Supreme Court ruled, however, that a search incident to a custodial arrest requires no justification beyond the arrest; it is not an exception to the warrant requirement, but rather is itself a reasonable search. It was "speculative" to believe that those arrested for driving without a license "are less likely to be armed than those arrested for other crimes." Any lawful arrest justifies "a full search of the person."

Jacob W. Landynski
(1986)

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