Williams v. United States

PETITIONER: Clarence Williams
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Clarence Williams’ House

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 401 US 646 (1971)
ARGUED: Oct 21, 1970
DECIDED: Apr 05, 1971

Charles A. Miller - By appointment of the Court, 395 U.S. 1065, for the petitioner in No. 82
Henry J. Florence - For the Petitioner in No. 81
James Van R. Springer - For the United States in both cases

Facts of the case

These are two consolidated cases. In 81, Clarence Williams was arrested in his house in 1967. Police searched the house for an hour and 45 minutes, discovering heroin on a shelf in a bedroom. The heroin was admitted at trial and Williams was convicted of concealing illegally imported heroin. Williams appealed, arguing that the search of his house was illegal under Chimel v. California, a case decided on June 23, 1969 that narrowed the permissible scope of searches incidental to an arrest. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding that Chimel did not apply retroactively, and the search was valid under pre-Chimel standards.

In 82, Joseph Elkanich was convicted on three counts of selling narcotics in 1962. At trial, evidence included marked bills planted by a federal narcotics agent. The bills were seized during a search of Elkanich’s apartment after his arrest. The arrest and search were upheld at trial and on appeal and the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari. Elkanich then unsuccessfully applied for post-conviction relief in the district court. While the appeal of that decision was pending, <i>Chimel</i> was decided. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court.


Does Chimel v. California apply retroactively to arrests and searches that occurred before June 23, 1969?

Media for Williams v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 21, 1970 in Williams v. United States

Warren E. Burger:

We’ll hear argument in number 82, Elkanich against the United States.

Mr. Miller, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Charles A. Miller:

Thank you. Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This case and the two with it follow: present the question of the extent of retroactive application of the decision in Chimel versus California, decided in the 1968 term.

Chimel dealt with the permissible scope of a search without a warrant, but pursuant to a lawful arrest.

The Fourth Amendment has long been understood to permit a search without warrant as an incident to a valid arrest.

The question in Chimel was how far can a search go and still be deemed an incident to a valid arrest.

In that case, the court held that to be incident to an arrest, a search must be confined to the person arrested or the immediate vicinity from which he might reach weapons or destructible evidence.

Any search beyond the immediate person or the immediate vicinity without a validly issued search warrant would violate the Fourth Amendment.

Warren E. Burger:

Does it encompass anything that he can see?

Does it encompass anything which he can see the place [Voice Overlap] status, he the defendant, the searcher?

Charles A. Miller:

The searcher?

I think that there is other doctrine not necessary emanating from Chimel that holds that if the officer is legally on the premises, he may seize any contraband or other fruits of crime that are visible to him.

Warren E. Burger:

Pistol or an apple?

Charles A. Miller:

I think a pistol, yes.

Now in Chimel, the rule of that case was applied to invalidate a search of an entire house in which the defendant was arrested.

In the present case, the convict, the petitioner was convicted on the basis of evidence seized at the time of his arrest when the rushing officers have no warrant.

He was arrested in his apartment, and after entry into the apartment and arrest of petitioner, the arresting officers proceeded to search throughout the apartment.

And in the course of their search, they uncovered the hidden in the closets and kitchen a certain evidence that was material to petitioner’s conviction.

Now concededly, the search without warrant in this case went far beyond the petitioner’s person or the immediate vicinity of his arrest, and the Government makes no claim now to makes no claim in this case that the search was incident to the arrest within the meaning of that term as defined in Chimel.

The Government does urge however that the search here ought not be deemed a violation of the standard announced in Chimel because there were exigent circumstances that justified a broader search without warrant, then when otherwise be permitted under the Chimel doctrine.

We treat this point in our reply brief and I -- it warns just a few words this morning.

The exigent circumstances alleged here by the Government where that the petitioner’s wife was present in the apartment at the time of his arrest, and that she might disposed of incriminating evidence if a search and seizure where not immediately undertaken.

This explanation for the warrantless search is virtually identical to the justification for a similar warrantless search of a dwelling in last year’s case of Vale against Louisiana.

The argument was rejected in that case.

There the court held that the requirement for a warrant for a search of a dwelling was subject only to a few well recognized exceptions, and that the asserted justification advanced there which is identical to the one advanced here did not fall within one of those exceptions.

Now, the Government contends that the present case is different because the officers here were concerned that petitioner might be forewarned of his an imminent arrest and flee, and that this justified the officers in making the arrest and the search without first securing the warrant.

Now, the basis of this claim is that an alleged middleman in the narcotics dealings in which petitioner is accused was in custody and the he knew, he the middleman, knew that the officials were seeking his supplier, and that he might therefore forewarn his supplier by telephone.

We think this claim to be insufficient on the facts.

The alleged middleman here had been in custody for two days prior to the arrest of petitioner.