Washington v. Chrisman


No. 81-1349 Argued: November 3, 1981 --- Decided: January 13, 1982
CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari to consider whether a police officer may, consistent with the Fourth Amendment, accompany an arrested person into his residence and seize contraband discovered there in plain view.


On the evening of January 21, 1978, Officer Daugherty of the Washington State University police department observed Carl Overdahl, a student at the University, leave a student dormitory carrying a half-gallon bottle of gin. Because Washington law forbids possession of alcoholic beverages by persons under 21, Wash.Rev.Code § 66.44.270 (1981), and Overdahl appeared to be under age, [n1] the officer stopped him and asked for identification. Overdahl said that his identification was in his dormitory room, and asked if the officer would wait while he went to retrieve it. The officer answered that, under the circumstances, he would have to accompany Overdahl, to which Overdahl replied "OK."

Overdahl's toom was approximately 11 bt 17 feet, and located on the 11th floor of the dormitory. Respondent Chrisman, Overdahl's roommate, was in the room when the officer and Overdahl entered. The officer remained in the open doorway, leaning against the doorjamb while watching Chrisman and Overdahl. He observed that Chrisman, who was in the process of placing a small box in the room's medicine cabinet, because nervous at the sight of an officer. [p4]

Within 30 to 45 seconds after Overdahl entered the room, the officer noticed seeds ancl a small pipe lying on a clesk 8 to 10 feet from where he uas standing. From his training and experience, the officer believed the seeds were marihuana and the pipe was of a type used to smoke marihuana. He entered the room and examined the pipe and seeds, confirming that the seeds were marihuana and observing that the pipe smelled of marihuana.

The officer informed Overdahl and Chrisman of their rights under Mianda v. Aizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966); each acknowledged that he understood his rights and indicated that he was willing to waive them. Officer Daugherty then asked whether the students had any other drugs in the room. The respondent handed Daugherty the box he had been carrying earlier, which contained three small plastic bags filled with marihuana and $112 in cash. At that point, Officer Daugherty called by radio for a second officer; on his arrival, the two students were told that a search of the room would be necessary. The officers explained to Overdahl and Chrisman that they had an absolute right to insist that the officers first obtain a search warrant, but that they could voluntarily consent to the search. Following this explanation, which was given in considerable detail, the two students conferred in whispers for several minutes before announcing their consent; they also signed written forms consenting to the search of the room. The search yielded more marihuana and a quantity of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), both controlled substances.

Respondent was charged with one count of possessing more than 40 grams of marihuana and one count of possessing LSD, both felonies under Wash.Rev.Code § 69.50.401(c) (1976) (current version at Wash.Rev.Code § 69.50.401(d) (1981)). A pretrial motion to suppress the evidence seized in the room was denied; respondent was convicted of both counts. On appeal, the Washington Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions, upholding the validity of the search. 24 Wash.App. 385, 600 P.2d 1316 (1979). [p5]

The Supreme Court of Washington reversed. 94 Wash.2d 711, 619 P.2d 971 (1980). It held that, although Overdahl had been placed under lawful arrest and "there was nothing to prevent Officer Daugherty from accompanying Overdahl to his room," the officer had no right to enter the room and either examine or seize contraband without a warrant. The court reasoned there was no indication that Overdahl might obtain a weapon or destroy evidence, and, with the officer blocking the only exit from the room, his presence inside the room was not necessary to prevent escape. Because the officer's entry into the room and his observations of its interior were not justified by "exigent circumstances," the seizure of the seeds and pipe were held not to fall within the plain view exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. The court went on to hold that, because the students' consent to the subsequent search of the room was the fruit of the officer's initial entry, the contraband found during that search should also have been suppressed. [n2]

Three justices dissented. They concluded it was reasonable for a police officer to keep an arrested person in sight at all times; accordingly, the officer had a legitimate reason for being in the place where he discovered the contraband, and was entitled, under the plain view doctrine, to seize it.

We granted certiorari, 452 U.S. 959 (1981), and reverse.



The "plain view" exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement permits a law enforcement officer to seize [p6] what clearly is incriminating evilence or contraband when it is discovered in a place where the officer has a right to be. Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443 (1971); Harris v. United States, 390 U.S. 234 (1968). Here, the officer had placed Overdahl under lawful arrest, and therefore was authorized to accompany him to his room for the purpose of obtaining identification. [n3] The officer had a right to remain literally at Overdahl's elbow at all times; nothing in the Fourth Amendment is to the contrary.

The central premise of the opinion of the Supreme Court of Washington is that Officer Daugherty was not entitled to accompany Overdahl from the public corridor of the dormitory into his room, absent a showing that such "intervention" was required by "exigent circumstances." We disagree with this novel reading of the Fourth Amendment. The absence of an affirmative indication that an arrested person might have a weapon available or might attempt to escape does not diminish the arresting officer's authority to maintain custody over the arrested person. See Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106, 109-110 (1977); United States v. Robinson, 414 [p7] U.S. 218, 234-236 (1973). Nor is that authority altered by the nature of the offense for which the arrest was made.

Every arrest must be presumed to present a risk of danger to the arresting officer. Cf. United States v. Robinson, supra, at 234, n. 5. There is no way for an officer to predict reliably how a particular subject will react to arrest, or the degree of the potential danger. Moreover, the possibility that an arrested person will attempt to escape if not properly supervised is obvious. Although the Supreme Court of Washington found little likelihood that Overdahl could escape from his dormitory room, an arresting officer's custodial authority over an arrested person does not depend upon a revieving court's after-the-fact assessment of the particular arrest situation. Cf. Neu York v. Beltn, 453 U.S. 454, 458-460 (1981); United States v. Robinson, supra, at 235.

We hold, therefore, that it is not "unreasonable" under the Fourth Amendment for a police officer, as a matter of routine, to monitor the movements of an arrested person, as his judgment dictates, following the arrest. The officer's need to ensure his own safety -- as well as the integrity of the arrest -- is compelling. Such surveillance is not an impermissible invasion of the privacy or personal liberty of an individual who has been arrested. [n4]

It follows that Officer Daugherty properly accompanied Overdahl into his room, and that his presence in the room was lawful. With restraint, the officer remained in the doorway momentarily, entering no farther than was necessary to keep the arrested person in his view. It was only by chance that, while in the doorway, the officer observed in plain view what he recognized to be contraband. Had he exercised his undoubted right to remain at Overdahl's side, he might well have observed the contraband sooner. [p8]


Respondent nevertheless contends that the officer lacked authority to seize the contraband, even though in plain view, because he was "outside" the room at the time he made his observations. The Supreme Court of Washington noted that

[t]he record is in conflict as to whether Officer Daugherty stood in the doorway and then entered the room or whether, while in the doorway, he was in fact in the room.

94 Wash.2d at 716, 619 P.2d at 974. It concluded, however, that it "need not . . . let the result be determined by such niceties," and assumed for purposes of its decision that the officer "was in the room at the time he observed the seeds and pipe." Ibid. We agree that, on this record, "such niceties" are not relevant. It is of no legal significance whether the officer was in the room, on the threshold, or in the hallway, since he had a right to be in any of these places as an incident of a valid arrest.

Respondent's argument appears to be that, even if the officer could have stationed himself "inside" the room had he done so immediately upon Overdahl's entry, his 30- to 45-second hesitation was fatal; and that, having chosen to remain in the doorway, the officer was precluded from proceeding further to seize the contraband. We reject this contention. Respondent's argument, if accepted, would have the perverse effect of penalizing the officer for exercising more restraint than was required under the circumstances. Moreover, it ignores the fundamental premise that the Fourth Amendment protects only against unreasonable intrusions into an individual's privacy. See Katz v. Urited States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967).

The "intrusion" in this case occurred when the officer, quite properly, followed Overdahl into a private area to a point from which he had unimpeded view of and access to the area's contents and its occupants. His right to custodial control did not evaporate with his choice to hesitate briefly in the doorway, rather than at some other vantage point inside the [p9] room. It cannot be gainsaid that the officer would have had unrestricted access to the room at the first indication that he was in danger, or that evidence might be destroyed -- or even upon reassessment of the wisdom of permitting a distance between himself and Overdahl.

We therefore conclude that, regardless of where the officer was positioned with respect to the threshold, he did not abandon his right to be in the room whenever he considered it essential. Accordingly, he had the right to act as soon as he observed the seeds and pipe. [n5] This is a classic instance of incriminating evidence found in plain view when a police officer, for unrelated but entirely legitimate reasons, obtains lawful access to an individual's area of privacy. The Fourth Amendment does not prohibit seizure of evidence of criminal conduct found in these circumstances. [n6]


Since the seizure of the marihuana and pipe was lawful, we have no difficulty concluding that this evidence and the contraband subsequently taken from respondent's room were properly admitted at his trial. Respondent voluntarily produced three bags of marihuana after being informed of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). He then consented, in writing, to a search of the room, after being advised that his consent must be voluntary and that he had an absolute right to refuse consent and demand procurement of a search warrant. The seizure of the drugs pursuant [p10] to respondent's valid consent did not violate the Fourth Amendment. [n7]

The judgment of the Supreme Court of Washington is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

So ordered.

1. In addition, University regulations prohibit possession of alcoholic beverages on University property. Tr. 4, 34. At the suppression hearing, Officer Daugherty testified that, because of these regulations, he would have stopped Overdahl without regard to his age. Id., at 6-7.

2. The opinion of the Supreme Court of Washington repeatedly refers to the Fourth Amendment and our cases construing it. The court did not, however, cite Art. 1, § 7 of the Washington Constitution, which provides that "[n]o person shall be disturbed in his private affairs, or his home invaded, without authority of law." While respondent, relying on this latter provision, urges that we "treat the case as having been decided under the Washington State Constitution," it is clear that the court did not rest its decision on an independent state ground.

3. The trial court found that it was Overdahl who proposed to retrieve the identification, and, after being informed that Officer Daugherty would have to accompany him, agreed to the officer's presence. Respondent nevertheless claims that Overdahl was "coerced" to return to the room in violation of the Fifth Amendment, because he was in custody and had not yet been advised of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). He argues that, since identification would serve as proof of Overdahl's age -- an element of the offense for which he had been arrested -- the officer could not ask him for this "incriminating" evidence without first advising him of his rights to counsel and to remain silent.

Assuming, arguendo, that Overdahl's Fifth Amendment rights were violated in some fashion, this does not vitiate the legality of his arrest, nor does it undercut the officer's right to maintain custody over an arrested person. The failure to give "Miranda warnings" might preclude introduction of incriminating statements made by Overdahl while in custody, but no such statements are even peripherally involved in this case. The act of going to the room was neither "incriminating" nor a "testimonial communication." Cf. Fisher v. United States, 425 U.S. 391, 408-414 (1976).

4. Indeed, were the rule otherwise, it is doubtful that an arrested person would ever be permitted to return to his residence, no matter how legitimate the reason for doing so. Such a rule would impose far greater restrictions on the personal liberty of arrested individuals than those occasioned here.

5. The circumstances of this case distinguish it significantly from one in which an officer, who happens to pass by chance an open doorway to a residence, observes what he believes to be contraband inside. See, e.g., Paton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 585-589 (1980); Johnson v. United States, 333 U.S. 10, 14-15 (1948).

6. In light of our disposition, we need not decide whether, as the Washington Court of Appeals held, the likelihood that the contraband would be destroyed constituted an "exigent cicumstance" independently justifying the officer's entry into the room.

7. We reject as frivolous he respondent's contention that, on the facts presented here, Officer Daugherty was required to knock and announce his presence at the doorway prior to entering the room.