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decided: June 22, 1970.



Burger, Black, Douglas, Harlan, Brennan, Stewart, White, Marshall, Blackmun

Author: Stewart

[ 399 U.S. Page 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 811. We granted Vale's motion to proceed in forma pauperis, 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.*fn*

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 took

[ 399 U.S. Page 32]

     place was summarized by the Louisiana Supreme Court as follows:

"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 cars 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

[ 399 U.S. Page 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 impending search." 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, we 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 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, 819; Stoner v. California, 3 ...

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