The US Supreme Court today issued a rare pro-4th Amendment decision to restrict vehicle searches incident to arrest. In a 5-4 ruling, the high court held in Arizona v. Gant that "Police may search the passenger compartment of a vehicle incident to a recent occupant’s arrest only if it is reasonable to believe that the arrestee might access the vehicle at the time of the search or that the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of arrest."
The majority lamented that "Countless individuals guilty of nothing more serious than a traffic violation have had their constitutional right to the security of their private effects violated as a result."
In a concurring opinion, Justice Scalia wrote that:
Law enforcement officers face a risk of being shot when-ever they pull a car over. But that risk is at its height at the time of the initial confrontation; and it is not at all reduced by allowing a search of the stopped vehicle after the driver has been arrested and placed in the squad car.Bottom line, said the court: "Police may search a vehicle incident to a recent occupant’s arrest only if the arrestee is within reaching 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."
Though Gant is a relatively narrow ruling, one hopes it portends a renewed commitment to basic Fourth Amendment protections which have been battered and abused by the Court recent years.
RELATED: See the SCOTUSWiki page on the case.
MORE: From Mark Bennett at Defending People, Mark Sherman at the Huffington Post, Debra Weiss at the ABA Journal, Orin Kerr at the Volokh Conspiracy, Gideon at A Public Defender, and Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice.
AND MORE: See a discussion of the case from the TX prosecutors' user forum.