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Law School Case Brief

Hill v. California - 401 U.S. 797, 91 S. Ct. 1106 (1971)

Rule:

When the police have probable cause to arrest one party, and when they reasonably mistake a second party for the first party, then the arrest of the second party is a valid arrest. 

Facts:

Police officers, after arresting two men who were driving the defendant's car, found in the car some property that had been stolen in a recent robbery. The two men admitted taking part in the robbery, implicated the defendant, told the police where the defendant's apartment was. Some officers, having received a description of the defendant and having gone to the apartment to arrest him, knocked on the door, and it was opened by a man who met the defendant's description. The officers arrested this man, but he denied that he was the defendant, and he produced identification showing who he was. Nevertheless, the officers, mistakenly believing that the arrestee was the defendant, proceeded to search the entire apartment and found a revolver and masks, property stolen in the robbery, and two pages of the defendant's diary containing a full confession of his participation in the robbery. The evidence found in the apartment was admitted at the defendant's trial, the trial judge concluding that the officers had believed in good faith that the arrestee was the defendant. The defendant was convicted of robbery, and the California Supreme Court, affirming the conviction, held that the arrest at the apartment was valid, and that neither the defendant's absence nor the arrestee's lack of control of the premises vitiated the search, since the officers had a reasonable and good-faith belief that the arrestee was the defendant and that the arrestee controlled the premises.

Issue:

Did the police have probable cause to conduct the search that lead to petitioner’s arrest?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The court affirmed petitioner's conviction. It was held (1) expressing the view of five members of the court, that although Chimel v California (1969) 395 US 752, 23 L Ed 2d 685, 89 S Ct 2034, decided after the California Supreme Court's affirmance of the defendant's conviction, narrowed the permissible scope of a search incident to an arrest, the Chimel case was not retroactively applicable to searches occurring before the date of the Chimel decision; (2) expressing the view of seven members of the court, that the arrest in the apartment was valid, and the police were entitled to search incident to the arrest and to seize evidence of the crime which they had probable cause to believe the defendant had committed; and (3) expressing the view of seven members of the court, that since a Fifth Amendment issue relating to the admission in evidence of pages of the defendant's diary had not been raised in the lower courts or in the petition for certiorari, this issue was not properly before the Supreme Court.

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