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Smith v. Ohio, 494 U.S. 541 (1990)


As petitioner Smith was approached by two police officers, he threw the bag he was carrying onto his car’s hood and, when asked, refused to reveal its contents. Although he attempted to protect the bag, one officer opened it and discovered drug paraphernalia that provided probable cause for Smith’s arrest and evidence to support his conviction for drug abuse. The Ohio Supreme Court upheld the bag’s warrantless search under the exception for searches incident to arrest, finding that the search was constitutional because its fruits justified the arrest that followed.

Held: A warrantless search providing probable cause for an arrest cannot be justified as an incident of that arrest. While the incident to arrest exception permits the police to search a lawfully arrested individual and areas within his immediate control, it does not permit them to search any citizen without a warrant or probable cause so long as an arrest follows. Contrary to the State’s argument, a citizen who attempts to protect his private property from inspection, after throwing it on a car to respond to a police officer’s inquiry, clearly has not abandoned his property.

Certiorari granted; 45 Ohio St.3d 255, 544 N.E.2d 239, reversed.