Search Incident to Arrest
- See also Warrantless Arrests for details on arrest powers
Common Law Rule for Search
The common law creates an exception to the rule that a warrantless search is prima facie unreasonable when the search is incidental to arrest (SITA). This exception is limited by courts to protect the individual's privacy rights.
An officer undertaking a search incident to arrest does not need to have reasonable and probable grounds. It is only necessary that the officer have "some reasonable basis" or "reasonable prospect" to believe that evidence towards the offence will be found.
Authority Arises from Arrest Power
The power does not arise from a reduced expectation of privacy of the arrested person. Rather it comes from "the need for the authorities to gain control of the situation and the need to obtain information."
The lawfulness of a search incident to arrest flows from the lawfulness of the arrest itself and so does not require independent reasonable grounds. 
This common law power is an exception to the usual requirement of "reasonable grounds" for a search. The Officer must subjectively believe that person is committing or has committed an indictable offence and their belief is based on objectively reasonable grounds.
It is said that "[i]f the arrest is unlawful, the search is also unlawful”.
The common law power is discretionary to the officer based on whether the law can be applied safely and effectively without a search.
The search must be for a valid objective in the administration of justice, such as the discovery of things that may be a threat to the safety of the officer, accused, or public, items that may facilitate escape, or items that may be evidence to the offence for which he was arrested.
The "primary" purposes of search incident to arrest are:
- to ensure the safety of the police and the public; 
- to protect evidence;
- to discover evidence
There is an open list of legitimate purposes. However, a valid purpose must be "truly incidental" to the arrest.
Where the purpose is to discover evidence there must be "a reasonable prospect the evidence will relate to the offence for which the person is arrested."
The police conducting the search "subjectively must have a valid purpose in mind, the reasonableness of which must be considered objectively."
The decision to search must be "reasonably necessary in light of the totality of the circumstances." It cannot be on vague concerns for safety.
The search should not be used "to intimidate, ridicule or pressure the accused in order to obtain admissions." It should not "be conducted in an abusive fashion and, in particular, the use of physical or psychological constraint should be proportionate to the objectives sought and the other circumstances of the situation." 
Seizure of Evidence upon Discovery
A peace officer may also take property from a person which the officer reasonably believes is connected with the offence charged, or which may be used as evidence against the person arrested.  This power is derived from the common law. 
The police are obliged to safeguard items they have seized.
Level of Interference
Searches that have greater impact to "human dignity, serious interference with bodily integrity and significant invasions of privacy require a higher degree justification for the search and seizure."
The use of "physical or psychological constraint should be proportionate to the objectives sought and the other circumstances of the situation."
Timing of Search
The timing of the search does not need to be immediately after the arrest is affected, it should be done "within a reasonable period of time after the arrest". </reF> A "substantial delay" will permit the making of an inference that the search was not sufficiently connected to the arrest.
Depending on the circumstances, hours may pass and the search may be still lawful.
Just because there is time to obtain a warrant is not determinative of whether a warrant is needed.
R v Stillman 1997 CanLII 384 (SCC), (1997), 5 C. R. (5th) 1 (SCC), per Cory J
R v Golden 2001 SCC 83 (CanLII),  3 SCR 679, per Iacobucci and Arbour JJ, at para 23
Compare with US perspective: United States v Robinson, 414 U.S. 218 (1973)
Golden, ibid., at p. 488
- R v Hiscoe, 2013 NSCA 48 (CanLII) at para 33
R v Caslake, 1998 CanLII 838 (SCC),  1 SCR 51, per Lamer CJ, at paras 13, 17
Caslake, supra at para 20, 22 ("some reasonable prospect of securing evidence of the offence for which the accused is being arrested")
Hiscoe, supra at para 38 ("reasonable basis")
- R v Blais 2004 CanLII 8466 (ON C.A.)
- R v Bulmer, 2005 SKCA 90 (CanLII)
- Caslake, supra at para 17
- Caslake, supra at para 13
- R v Rajaratnam, 2006 ABCA 333 (CanLII) at para 20
- R v Mohamad, 2004 CanLII 9378 (ON CA), (2004), 69 O.R. (3d) 481 (C.A.) at para 28
- Stillman, supra at p. 278 ("This power does not impose a duty. The police have some discretion in conducting the search. Where they are satisfied that the law can be effectively and safely applied without a search, the police may see fit not to conduct a search.")
Stillman, supra ("The search must be for a valid objective ..., such as the discovery of an object that may be a threat to the safety of the police, the accused or the public, or that may facilitate escape or act as evidence against the accused.")
Caslake, supra at para 22
- Caslake at para 19
see also R v Fearon, 2014 SCC 77 (CanLII), per Cromwell J - modifies "valid law enforcement purposes" for cell searches
- see also Cloutier v Langlois
- Caslake, supra at paras 10, 20, 25
- Caslake, supra at para 22
- R v Majedi (M.F.), 2009 BCCA 276 (CanLII) at para 19 - summarizing Caslake
R v Mann, 2004 SCC 52 (CanLII) at para 40
- Stillman, supra
- R v Morrison 1987 CanLII 182 (ON C.A.), (1987), 35 CCC (3d) 437 see also s. 489
- Cloutier v Langlois, 1990 CanLII 122 (SCC),  1 SCR 158
R v Strilec, 2010 BCCA 198 (CanLII)
R v Wint 2009 ONCA 52 (CanLII)
- Hiscoe, supra at para 37
Stillman, supra at para 158
e.g. Caslake, supra - search of vehicle for inventory purposes occurred 6 hours after arrest was unlawful. per Lamer CJ at para 24 ("There is no need to set a firm deadline on the amount of time that may elapse before the search can no longer said to be incidental to arrest. As a general rule, searches that are truly incidental to arrest will usually occur within a reasonable period of time after the arrest")
Fearon, 2014 SCC 77
Caslake, supra at para 24 ("A substantial delay does not mean that the search is automatically unlawful, but it may cause the court to draw an inference that the search is not sufficiently connected to the arrest. Naturally, the strength of the inference will depend on the length of the delay, and can be defeated by a reasonable explanation for the delay.")
R v Farmakis, 2011 NSSC 101 (CanLII), at paras 98 to 112
R v Nolet,  1 SCR 851, 2010 SCC 24 (CanLII) at para 50
R v Washington, 2007 BCCA 540 (CanLII), at para 97, denied leave  S.C.C.A. No. 570
R v Eden and Perry, 2004 NBQB 338 (CanLII), affirmed on other grounds  NBJ No. 472 (C.A.)
R v Clarke,  O.J. No. 3884 (C.A.)(*no link) at paras 217 to 226
R v Miller, 1987 CanLII 4416 (ON CA),  O.J. No. 989 (C.A.) at para 25
R v Hiscoe, 2013 NSCA 48 (CanLII) - one month before searching cell phone
R v D.J.S.,  BCJ No. 1198 (Sup. Ct.)(*no link) at paras 29-30
R v M.C.,  O.J. No. 3181 (Gen. Div.)(*no link) at para 19
R v Sinclair, 2005 MBCA 41 (CanLII), at para 18
Searches conducted in the normal practice of creating an inventory of items on a person who is being lodged in cells for an offence is a permissible search.
Searches that intrudes on "bodily integrity or human dignity" will be subject to a higher standard for warrantless search.
U.S. case law has developed doctrine that will often permit search of containers in possession or control of the person.
A strip search refers to "the removal or rearrangement of some or all of the clothing of a person so as to permit a visual inspection of a person's private areas, namely, genitals, buttocks, breasts (in the case of a female), or undergarments."
A strip search on an individual can only be performed where there is additional reasonable and probable grounds to do so or there are exigent circumstances.
Burden or Onus
The onus is upon the Crown to establish the sufficiency of grounds to conduct the strip search.
Manner of Search
The strip search must be conducted in a reasonable manner. It cannot be done "abusively or for the purpose of humiliating or punishing the arrestee". However, no matter what the search will be "humiliating and degrading".
Guidelines suggest that the following questions should be considered before undertaking a strip search:
- Can the strip search be conducted at the police station and, if not, why not?
- Will the strip search be conducted in a manner that ensures the health and safety of all involved?
- Will the strip search be authorized by a police officer acting in a supervisory capacity?
- Has it been ensured that the police officer(s) carrying out the strip search are of the same gender as the individual being searched?
- Will the number of police officers involved in the search be no more than is reasonably necessary in the circumstances?
- What is the minimum of force necessary to conduct the strip search?
- Will the strip search be carried out in a private area such that no one other than the individuals engaged in the search can observe the search?
- Will the strip search be conducted as quickly as possible and in a way that ensures that the person is not completely undressed at any one time?
- Will the strip search involve only a visual inspection of the arrestee’s genital and anal areas without any physical contact?
- If the visual inspection reveals the presence of a weapon or evidence in a body cavity (not including the mouth), will the detainee be given the option of removing the object himself or of having the object removed by a trained medical professional?
- Will a proper record be kept of the reasons for and the manner in which the strip search was conducted?
- R v Golden, 2001 SCC 83 (CanLII),  3 SCR 679
- R v Golden
- Golden at para 95
- Golden at para 95
- Golden at para 101
Taking Bodily Samples
The higher standard used in strip searches will equally apply to the taking of hair samples and cheek swabs.
There is divide on whether a penile swab is ever available without a warrant.
A penile swab is considered more intrusive than a strip search. It is closer to taking a bodily sample of a suspect.
The "non-consensual interferences with the body are experienced as a violation of human dignity".
Evidence establishing that the time necessary to apply for a warrant would result in evidence significantly deteriorating or disappearing that award will be required.
R v Stillman,  1 SCR 607, 1997 CanLII 384 (SCC)
R v Golden, 2001 SCC 83 (CanLII),  3 SCR 679 at para 99
Warrant Only: R v Saeed, 2014 ABCA 238 (CanLII), per Watson J.
R v Laporte, 2012 MBQB 227 (CanLII)
No Warrant Needed: Saeed, supra per McDonald JA.
R v Amey, 2013 ONSC 5108 (CanLII)
R v Harasemow, 2014 BCSC 2287 (CanLII)
Saeed, supra, at para 50
Saeed at para 62
The power to search a person on arrest will generally extend to the search of the premises wherein he was found which was under his control.
Section 529.3 authorizes warrantless entry into a residence.
A warrantless arrest of an individual at their front door may, in certain circumstances, permit the officers to perform a sweep of the residence for the presence of other people and to preserve evidence.
R v Rao, 1984 CanLII 2184 (ON CA), (1984), 12 CCC (3d) 97 (ON CA), per Martin JA
R v Plourde (1985), 23 CCC (3d) 463(*no link) - search of residence upon arresting accused for sex assault
see Warrantless Entry into Dwellings in Exigent Circumstances
R v Ewart, 1995 CanLII 759 (BC CA) - accused arrested at front door for drug offence
R v Luu, 2006 BCCA 73 (CanLII)
R v R.S.T., 2007 MBQB 166 (CanLII)
The common law power of police to search incident to arrest can include the accused's motor vehicle. An officer may search a vehicle incidental to arrest where it is for a valid purpose related to the offence and where the officer reasonably believed that the search would be only to achieved that legitimate purpose. There is no heightened expectation of privacy justifying an exemption from the usual common law principles of search incident to arrest. For example, a search of a brief case found in a stolen vehicle incident to arrest is justified. The presumption of unreasonableness of a warrantless search is rebutted upon proof that the arrest was lawful and the search was reasonable.
When a vehicle is impounded lawfully, the officers have a duty to keep the property safe and take reasonable steps to do so. This will require entering the vehicle for itemizing the property of apparent value. 
Where the two accused are arrested in a vehicle for breaching no contact conditions, that alone is not sufficient for the officer to have reasonable and probable grounds to search the vehicle incident to arrest.
The removal of panels from the vehicle may in limited cases be justified as a search incident to arrest.
A search of vehicle incident to an arrest pursuant to a warrant is not permissible and violates section 8 of the Charter.
A search of a motor vehicle in relation to an investigation for breach of recognizance may generally not be valid.
Where the police seize a vehicle for the purpose of removing it from the road, there is a lessened expectation of privacy. Thus, any contents of the vehicle in plain view upon entering the vehicle can be seized.
A request by a police officer for a driver's licence and insurance is not a search.
In certain circumstances, police may search a vehicle to determine whether there are weapons found in the vehicle.
R v Polashek 1999 CanLII 3714 (ON CA), (1999), 134 CCC (3d) 187 (Ont. C.A.)
R v Alkins 2007 ONCA 264 (CanLII)
- R v Parchment, 2007 BCCA 326 (CanLII)
Caslake at para 19.
R v Caslake, 1998 CanLII 838,  1 SCR 51
R v Stillman, 1997 CanLII 384 (SCC),  1 SCR 607
- R v Mohamad, 2004 CanLII 9378 (ON C.A.), 182 CCC (3d) 97 (Ont. C.A.)
- R v Klimchuk (1991), 67 CCC (3d) 385, 1991 CanLII 3958 (BC CA)
- R v Nicolosi, 1998 CanLII 2006 (ONCA) at para 30
- R v Tran, 2003 ABPC 132 (CanLII)
R v Smellie, 1994 CanLII 1612 (BC CA)
- R v Forester, 2009 ABPC 278 (CanLII) – Arrest warrant related to charge of assault causing bodily harm
- R v Majedi, 2009 BCCA 276 (CanLII), at para 20
- R v Nicolisi 1998 CanLII 2006 (ON C.A.)
- R v Hufsky, 1988 CanLII 72,  1 SCR 621, per Le Dain J, at p.637
- R v Majedi 2009 BCCA 276 (CanLII) -- incident to arrest
An inventory search "per se" does not amount to a "valid objective" in criminal law that can produce evidence that is admissible at a criminal trial.
Passengers of Vehicles
Computers, Cell Phones and Digital Storage
Warrantless search of a cell phone incident to arrest is permitted where:
- The arrest was lawful;
- The search is truly incidental to the arrest in that the police have a reason based on a valid law enforcement purpose to conduct the search, and that reason is objectively reasonable. The valid law enforcement purposes in this context are:
- Protecting the police, the accused, or the public;
- Preserving evidence; or
- Discovering evidence, including locating additional suspects, in situations in which the investigation will be stymied or significantly hampered absent the ability to promptly search the cell phone incident to arrest;
- The nature and the extent of the search are tailored to the purpose of the search; and
- The police take detailed notes of what they have examined on the device and how it was searched.
The search not permitted when it is in relation to a "minor offence".
Timing of Search
Searches should be done "promptly upon making an arrest".
Discovery of Evidence
The "valid reasons" relating to the discovery of evidence should "not routinely permitted simply for the purpose of discovering additional evidence". It must serve an "immediate investigative purpose". The officer must be able to explain "why it was not practical..., in all the circumstances of the investigation, to postpone the search until they could obtain a warrant." 
A search memory stick without warrant upon arrest for credit card fraud has been found to violate s. 8.
R v Fearon, 2014 SCC 77 (CanLII), per Cromwell J, at para 83
Fearon, ibid. ("a search of a cell phone incident to arrest will generally not be justified in relation to minor offences")
Fearon, ibid. at para 16
Fearon, ibid. at para 80
Fearon, ibid. at para 80
Fearon, ibid. at para 80
- R v Tuduce, 2011 ONSC 2749 (CanLII)