New Supreme Court Case On Vehicle SearchesSubmitted by adam1mc on Mon, 09/21/2009 - 16:11
The United States Supreme Court recently re-wrote the law on search and seizure regarding vehicles. Now, if a police officer pulls you over for a traffic violation and then removes you from your vehicle and handcuffs you, he can not then go back into the car to search for drugs and guns (or any other evidence).
The old law gave the officers the right to always search the passenger compartment of your vehicle after the arrest in order to look for guns or drugs (or other evidence) that could be destroyed. The logic was that the officers need to protect themselves and preserve any evidence that the arrestee might destroy. In the Supreme Court case of Arizona v. Gant (April 2009), Mr. Gant had an outstanding warrant for driving on a suspended license and that his license was suspended. When he was pulled over, he exited his vehicle and was immediately placed in handcuffs and then secured in the back of the officer’s patrol car. The officer then went and searched Gant’s car and found a firearm and cocaine in the passenger compartment.
The Supreme Court held that the drugs and gun found in Gant’s car should be suppressed because the officer did not have a warrant to search Gant’s car. The prosecutors’ argued that they could search Gant’s car after they arrested him under the “search incident to arrest” rule of New York v. Belton. However, the Supreme Court said that, in Gant’s case, he was in handcuffs and secured in the back of the officer’s patrol car, there was no way that Gant could have grabbed a gun or destroyed evidence, so the officer was not allowed to go back into the car to search. Also, since the arrest was for driving on a suspended license, there was no reason to believe that evidence related to that crime would be located in the car. If the arrest would have been for a suspected drug or gun offense, then the search would have been valid as the officers could have searched the car for evidence relevant to the offense for which Gant was arrested. However, the court ruled that the “search incident to arrest” rule does not give officers the right to rummage through a suspects vehicle for every arrest they make.