Can a Warrantless Search Before Lawful Arrest Be Justified ?
In De Santis, 46 N.Y.2d 82, 412 N.Y.S.2d 838, 385 N.E.2d 577 (1978) Chief Judge Cooke noted at page 87:
... except in a few specified categorical instances, the Fourth Amendment prohibits all searches and seizures without prior approval of a disinterested Magistrate ( Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 455). One of these exceptions, of course, allows for a warrantless search of a person and the objects within his access incident to his lawful arrest (Chimel v. California 395 U.S. 752, 762-763, 23 L. Ed. 2d 685, 89 S. Ct. 2034; Marron v. United States, 275 U.S. 192,199).
A warrantless search incident to a lawful arrest is most often justified as necessary to protect the safety of the arresting officer, to deprive the arrestee of any potential means of escape or of the ability to destroy the evidence of a crime (Chimel v. California, supra at p. 756; People v. Evans, 43 N.Y.2d 160, 165, 400 N.Y.S.2d 810, 371 N.E.2d 528; People v. Erwin, 42 N.Y.2d 1064, 1065, 399 N.Y.S.2d 637, 369 N.E.2d 1170; People v. Darden, 34 N.Y.2d 177, 180, 356 N.Y.S.2d 582, 313 N.E.2d 49).
But the practical impetus for allowing these searches lies in the fact that the arrest itself constitutes such a major intrusion into the privacy of the individual that the encroachment caused by a contemporaneous search of the arrestee and his possessions at hand is in reality de minimus ( People v. Perel, 34 N.Y. 462, 467-468), see also People v. Weintraub, 35 NY2d, 351, 354, 361 N.Y.S.2d 897, 320 N.E.2d 636).
Thus, when viewed in the context of reasonableness, the cornerstone in any Fourth Amendment inquiry ( Katz v. United States. 389 U.S. 347, 19 L. Ed. 2d 576, 88 S. Ct. 507), the lawful custodial arrest being reasonable (see United States v. Watson, 423 U.S. 411, 46 L. Ed. 2d 598, 96 S. Ct. 820), the search of the person and the area within his immediate control ... does not involve any greater reduction in the arrestee's expectation of privacy than that caused by the arrest itself.