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State v. Carrawell, Search Incident to Arrest: A Refined Standard


State v. Carrawell, Search Incident to Arrest: A Refined Standard

By Alex Ledbetter


The Missouri Supreme Court recently refined the standard for a law enforcement search of a person incident to arrest.  The refined standard abrogates a series of Missouri Appellate Court decisions that permitted law enforcement more authority in searching a person incident to arrest.[1]  Constitutionality of a search incident to arrest remains rooted on the “immediate control” standard.[2]  Law enforcement may not search the personal effects of a detainee, such as a backpack or purse, if that item is not in the detainee’s immediate control.[3]


Derrick Carrawell was yelling obscenities at police officers in a neighborhood.  Carrawell was carrying a white grocery bag.  An Officer, after noticing a nearby resident’s disturbance by Carrawell’s obscenities, approached Carrawell and notified him that he was under arrest for peace disturbance.  A struggle ensued and the Officer demanded Carrawell to drop the plastic bag.  Eventually, the Officer was able to rip the bag from Carrawell.  Carrawell was handcuffed and placed in the back seat of the patrol car and the Officer placed the plastic bag on the car’s trunk.  The Officer looked inside the plastic bag and discovered a powdery substance, later determined to be heroin.[4]

Court's Analysis

The court first begins by an examination of the warrantless search exception, a search incident to arrest.  Language from Chimel is deemed controlling, “incident to arrest, officers may lawfully search the arrestee’s person and the area within his immediate control.”[5]  Immediate control is considered the area where the defendant may be able to gain possession of a weapon or destruct evidence.  Chadwick provides further instruction into the immediate control standard for purposes of public/officer safety considerations: “once law enforcement officers have reduced luggage or other personal property not immediately associated with the person of the arrestee to their exclusive control, and there is no longer any danger that the arrestee might gain access to the property…a search of that property is no longer an incident of the arrest.”[6]

Prior Missouri Court of Appeals case law Ellis and Rattler are now abrogated as the reasoning contained therein is based on a misunderstanding of Supreme Court precedent.[7]   Ellis and Rattler relied on the notion that police officers were permitted to search, as part of the search of a person incident to a lawful arrest, the personal effects of an arrestee.[8]  Both Ellis and Rattler misapplied United States v. Edwards.  Edwards held that the clothes that the arrestee was wearing at the time of arrest could be searched the next day.[9]  The court reasoned that the Edwards exception applies only to items that are “so intertwined with the arrestee’s person that they cannot be separated from the person at the time of arrest.”[10]  Furthermore, the court abrogates what is known as the “purse exception,” in Missouri case law.[11]  Next, the court discussed further Fourth Amendment exceptions that may apply.  It reasoned that based on Robinson, level of suspicion, i.e. probable cause, plays no role in a search incident to arrest.[12]  However, “only in exigent circumstances will the judgment of the police as to probable cause serve as a sufficient authorization for a search.”[13]

Author's Analysis

The purse exception in Missouri law, an exception that permitted officers to search an arrestee’s personal effects incident to arrest without a warrant, has been abrogated.  Significant about the Missouri Supreme Court’s analysis in Carrawell is their focus on the ‘immediate control’ standard established by the United States Supreme Court in Robinson.[14]  The Carrawell court placed tremendous emphasis on the physical location of the arrestee in relation to the item (bag, backpack, purse, etc.).  Though relatively close in location from one another, an arrestee seated in the backseat of a police car is not within immediate control of his or her item placed on the trunk of that same police car.  Carrawell, however, still permits a warrantless search incident to arrest when another exception, such as exigent circumstances exists.  Exigent circumstances exist when a delay to obtain a warrant would risk life, permit flight of a suspect, or risk the destruction of evidence.[15]


The search incident to arrest standard has been refined in Missouri law.  To determine whether a warrantless search incident to arrest is constitutional, careful consideration must be given to the proximity of the arrestee and the item to be searched.

Alex Ledbetter* 
Edited By Tyler Winn


[1] State v. Carrawell, SC 94927, 2016 WL 142804, at *16 (Mo. banc 2016), rev’d State v. Ellis, 355 S.W.3d 522 (Mo. Ct. App. E.D. 2011), rev’dState v. Rattler, 639 S.W.2d 277 (Mo. Ct. App. E.D. 1982).

[2]  Carrawell, 2016 WL 142804, at *3.

[3] Id.

[4] Id. at *1.

[5] United States v. Chimel, 389 U.S. 347, 357 (1967); see also Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332, 339 (2009) (holding that police may lawfully search a vehicle incident to arrest in two situations: (1) if the arrestee is within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search or (2) it is reasonable to believe the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of arrest).

[6] Id.

[7] Carrawell, 2016 WL 142804, at *3.

[8] State v. Ellis, 355 S.W.3d at 524; State v. Rattler, 639 S.W.2d at 278.

[9] United States v. Edwards, 415 U.S. 800, 803 (1974).

[10] Carrawell, 2016 WL 14204, at *5.

[11] Id. (citing State v. Woods, 637 S.W.2d 113 (Mo. Ct. App. E.D. 1982) (holding that a woman’s purse could be search after she had been taken to a police station…a woman’s purse is like the arrestee’s clothes in Edwards, more immediately associated with the person of the accused than is other personal property)).

[12] United States v. Robinson, 414 U.S. 218, 235 (1973) (holding in part that a custodial arrest of a suspect based on probable cause is a reasonable intrusion under the Fourth Amendment; that intrusion being lawful, a search incident to the arrest requires no additional justification).

[13] Carrawell, 2016 WL 142804, at *9 (inventory searches are another exception in addition to exigent circumstances) (citing Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U.S. 42, 51 (1970)).

[14] Carrawell, 2016 WL 142804, at *3; Robinson, 414 U.S. at 224.

[15] See Kentucky v. Kling, 563 U.S. 452 (2011).

* Alex Ledbetter, Saint Louis University School of Law Class of 2017