If you are a fan of police shows on television, you may already know officers typically must obtain a warrant before searching a suspect or anyone else. This comes from the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that protects Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures.
There are some exceptions to the warrant requirement, however. One of these is a search incident to a lawful arrest. Specifically, if officers are arresting you for a lawful reason, they likely have the legal authority to search your person and your grab area without first obtaining a warrant.
A search of you
When arresting you, officers have a keen interest in being certain you do not pose a threat to them. They also have a duty to gather evidence of potential crimes. Therefore, during an arrest, an officer may ask you whether you have anything in your pockets or on your person. Then, officers may pat your torso, legs, ankles and arms to check for weapons or contraband.
A search of your grab area
In the same vein, officers are likely to secure the area immediately around you to prevent you from reaching for a weapon or disposing of evidence. The grab area is not large, though, so officers likely cannot search more than a few feet from your person. If officers search further, they may be violating your Fourth Amendment rights.
While the law tends to give officers broad discretion to search individuals during arrests, there are restrictions on police conduct. Ultimately, if you are facing criminal charges, it may benefit you to investigate whether officers violated the law when arresting you.