Bud Abbott, Pornography, and Searches Incident to Arrest

Tragedy — I dug up today’s document too late to incorporate it into my Crim Pro class on the search incident to arrest exception to the warrant requirement. Given its ribald subject matter, though, I probably wouldn’t have referenced it anyway; plus, I was too busy airing¬†the world’s worst search incident to arrest.

The document — posted a long time back on www.thesmokinggun.com — is an FBI memorandum from 1958. The memo (you’ll need to click on the document on the left-hand side of the linked-to web page to access it) claims that Bud Abbott, of Abbott & Costello fame, was an avid collector of pornography, possessing around 1,500 reels of the stuff in his home.

More to the pedagogical point, the memo writer advises that the Los Angeles Police Department planned on raiding a possible upcoming party at Abbott’s, at which time the police would “confiscate all films they are able to find in their search incidental to [the participants'] arrests.” ¬†At the time, the governing caselaw (Harris v. United States and United States v. Rabinowitz) would have permitted such an extensive search incident to arrest, provided (of course) that the arrest was lawful. The Supreme Court’s decision in Chimel v. California, which pared back the permissible radius of a search incident to arrest, was 11 years in the future.

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