Search Incident to Probable Cause?: The Intersection of Rawlings and Knowles

Marissa Perry*

The search incident to arrest exception authorizes an officer to search an arrestee’s person and his or her area of immediate control. This exception is based on two historical justifications: officer safety and evidence preservation. While much of search incident to arrest doctrine is settled, tension exists between two Supreme Court cases, Rawlings v. Kentucky and Knowles v. Iowa, and a crucial question remains unanswered: Must an officer decide to make an arrest prior to commencing a search? In Rawlings, the Supreme Court stated that a search may precede a formal arrest if the arrest follows quickly thereafter. In Knowles, the Supreme Court rejected the lower court’s reasoning that a search is valid so long as an officer has probable cause to make an arrest, even if an arrest never happens. This tension has led to differing interpretations among the lower courts, resulting in three different readings of Rawlings. This Note argues that Supreme Court should settle the lower courts’ varied interpretations of Rawlings and Knowles and answer the unresolved question. It proposes a new rule and argues that the Supreme Court should hold that in order for a search incident to arrest to be valid, the officer must intend to make an arrest before commencing the search.

* J.D. Candidate, May 2017, University of Michigan Law School. I would like to thank the members of the Michigan Law Review for their thoughtful feedback.

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