NEW YORK V. BELTON, 453 U. S. 454 (1981)

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U.S. Supreme Court

New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454 (1981)

New York v. Belton

No. 80-328

Argued April 27, 1981

Decided July 1, 1981

453 U.S. 454


An automobile in which respondent was one of the occupants was stopped by a New York State policeman for traveling at an excessive rate of speed. In the process of discovering that none of the occupants owned the car or was related to the owner, the policeman smelled burnt marihuana and saw on the floor of the car an envelope suspected of containing marihuana. He then directed the occupants to get out of the car and arrested them for unlawful possession of marihuana. After searching each of the occupants, he searched the passenger compartment of the car, found a jacket belonging to respondent, unzipped one of the pockets, and discovered cocaine. Subsequently, respondent was indicted for criminal possession of a controlled substance. After the trial court had denied his motion to suppress the cocaine seized from his jacket pocket, respondent pleaded guilty to a lesser included offense, while preserving his claim that the cocaine had been seized in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the search and seizure, but the New York Court of Appeals reversed.

Held: The search of respondent's jacket was a search incident to a lawful custodial arrest, and hence did not violate the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. The jacket, being located inside the passenger compartment of the car, was "within the arrestee's immediate control" within the meaning of Chimel v. California, 395 U. S. 752, wherein it was held that a lawful custodial arrest creates a situation justifying the contemporaneous warrantless search of the arrestee and of the immediately surrounding area. Not only may the police search the passenger compartment of the car in such circumstances, they may also examine the contents of any containers found in the passenger compartment. And such a container may be searched whether it is open or closed, since the justification for the search is not that the arrestee has no privacy interest in the container, but that the lawful custodial arrest justifies the infringement of any privacy interest the arrestee may have. Pp. 453 U. S. 457-463.

50 N.Y.2d 447, 407 N.E.2d 420, reversed.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J.,

Page 453 U. S. 455

filed a concurring statement, post, p. 453 U. S. 463. STEVENS, J., filed a statement concurring in the judgment, post, p. 453 U. S. 463. BRENNAN, J., post, p. 453 U. S. 463, and WHITE, J., post, p. 453 U. S. 472, filed dissenting opinions, in which MARSHALL, J., joined.

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