Friday, April 24, 2009

Supremes Tighten Up Search of a Vehicle Incident To Arrest

Arizona v. Gant, no. 07-542 (April 21, 2009)

Gant was arrested for driving while suspended. During a search of his car while he was confined in the back of a squad car, police found cocaine in the pocket of a jacket in the car, and he was tried and convicted of possession of a controlled substance. At trial Gant moved to suppress the evidence as the product of an unlawful search but that motion was denied.

The Arizona Supreme Court reversed, finding the search to be unreasonable, because Gant was locked in the back of a squad car and could not access the contraband or weapons. The search incident to arrest warrant exception under Chimel v. California did not apply.

Under Chimel, only the space in the suspect's immediate control or where he might gain possession of a weapon or evidence could be searched without a warrant incident to an arrest.

This appeal followed.

The Supreme Court held that "police may search a vehicle incident to a recent occupant's arrest only if the arrestee is within reacging distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search or it is reasonable to believe the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of arrest. When these justifications are absent, a search of an arrestee's vehicle will be unreasonable unless police obtain a warrant or show that another exception to the warrant requirement applies."

The marching orders are clear for law enforcement-the magistrates are going to get a lot more late night calls, and there are going to be a lot more inventories, and there are going to be a lot more calls for the drug dogs.

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