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Law School Case Brief

United States v. Rabinowitz - 339 U.S. 56, 70 S. Ct. 430 (1950)


What is a reasonable search is not to be determined by any fixed formula. The Constitution does not define what are "unreasonable" searches and, regrettably, there is no ready litmus-paper test. The recurring questions of the reasonableness of searches must find resolution in the facts and circumstances of each case. Reasonableness is in the first instance for a trial court to determine.


A printer who possessed plates for forging overprints on canceled stamps was taken into custody. He disclosed that defendant Rabinowitz, a stamp dealer, was one of his customers who purchased large amounts of forged stamps. A warrant for Rabinowitz's arrest was obtained, but no search warrant was obtained. Rabinowitz was arrested. His one-room office was searched and forged stamps were seized. Rabinowitz was convicted in federal district court of altering obligations of the United States. The appellate court reversed the conviction, ruling that the officers should have procured a search warrant before searching Rabinowitz's office. 


Was the warrantless search of Rabinowitz's office lawful?




The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the appellate court's judgment and reinstated Rabinowitz's conviction. The Court held that the right to search the person incident to an arrest had always been recognized in the United States and in England. The arrest was valid and the validity of the search without a warrant incident to the arrest was dependent initially on the valid arrest. The Court held that a reasonable search incident to an arrest conducted without a search warrant was permissible.

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