Searches Incident to Valid Arrests. When conducted incident to a lawful custodial arrest, a full search of the arrestee's person for both weapons and evidence is permitted. In addition, police may search containers and other items found on the arrestee's person and any items or areas within the person's immediate control at the time of the arrest. However, the search of the arrestee's person may not be unreasonably intrusive.
When police make a valid arrest of a recent occupant of a vehicle, police may search the passenger compartment of the vehicle only (1) “when it is reasonable to believe that evidence of the offense of arrest might be found in the vehicle” or (2) “when the arrestee is unsecured and within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search.” Authorization to search a vehicle's passenger compartment also extends to any containers found therein.
Although police must conduct searches incident to arrest reasonably promptly, substantial delay may be appropriate based on the circumstances surrounding a particular arrest. Searches incident to arrest conducted immediately before formal arrest are valid only if probable cause to arrest existed prior to the search. If the probable cause to arrest derives from a warrantless search, then the search is not justifiable as a search incident to arrest.
In general, an arrest does not justify a search of the arrestee's entire home. In Maryland v. Buie, however, the Supreme Court held that officers may conduct a limited protective sweep of “closets and other spaces immediately adjoining the place of arrest from which an attack could be immediately launched.” This sweep may extend to a non-adjoining area only if officers have a “reasonable belief based on specific and articulable facts that the area to be swept harbors an individual posing a danger to those on the arrest scene.” The protective sweep may only entail a cursory inspection of those spaces in which a person may be found and cannot last longer than is reasonably necessary to dispel suspicion of danger.