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by Peter Moskos

April 22, 2009

Arizona v. Gant

The court just ruled that police can no longer search a car incident to arrest... assuming the car isn't within reach of the arrested person and there is no reason to suspect that the car contains evidence related to the arrest.

Since New York v. Belton (1981), police have assumed that they can search a car any time the driver is arrested. This relates to Chimel v. California (1969) saying a search incident to arrest is justified by officer safety or the interest in preserving evidence.

In Arizona v. Gant (2009), a man was arrested for a suspended license and in custody in a police car. Police, because they could, searched his car (officer safety?) and found drugs. This is what has been overturned.

The real-world implications of Grant will be small. In my experience, most searches of cars happen not incident to arrest but technically to "inventory" belongings when the car is towed. Grant does not address that.

But I'm always pleased whenever the courts extend fourth amendment freedoms of citizens. It doesn't happen too often.


Rob Carlson said...

But if the arrested person could have another person pick up their car then there's no inventory.

PCM said...

Only if the officer lets that happen.

The officer could also say he or she doesn't want to wait.

If there are other occupants who can drive, then yes. But if there are other occupants, then the search would happen anyway because the passengers have access to the car and any weapons in the car.

Anonymous said...

anti-crime teams in NYC will be up in arms!

PCM said...

I doubt it. All they will have to do is ask. Most people consent. If not, there's almost always a way...

Anonymous said...

I can see both sides of the issue.

As a police officer this raises so many questions which the court doesn't address at this time. Belton made things easy. If you had an arrest you could search the passenger compartment. Should police policy and the Supreme Court allow it because it is easy? The answer is obviously no. But, Belton provide
d a clear workable set of rules for police officers. All day at my department this issue has been tossed around with different opinions on what would be constitutional.
In the dissenting opinion the question was raised as to a scenario with multiple occupants and only one arrestee. The other occupants are not secured and could still potentially access a weapon or destroy evidence. If you change the Gant scenario to include that is the search now permitted? The scenarios can be endless. I know most police officers just want a clear easy to follow set of rules.

On a side note I just wanted to say I read you book a couple of months ago and really enjoyed it. I have since checked back in on your site from time to time. I enjoy the debate and you do provide some excellent links that I would not normally come across.


CPM said...

Sounds like Vermont judges are moving to Arizona !!!

Jaguar said...

I agree. I don't see this will have much of a real-world impact.

Benjamin Wolf said...

I wrote a post on the meaning of Gant’s new test relative to New York law. I was particularly interested because I wanted to know how it would relate to New York’s interpretation its State Constitution which has been stricter on the police than SCOTUS’ Belton decision. I wanted to know whether the Gant decision made the Supreme Courts SILA rules stricter than, more lenient than, or the same as New York’s existing law. I concluded that even after the Gant decision, their rules are still more lenient than New York’s and therefore New York SILA jurisprudence will probably not be affected by Gant. The link follows:


Anonymous said...

gant made it easy for us criminals to trafic drugs and guns hahahahahahahahahaha

PCM said...

Dude, you're so obviously a cop.