Wednesday, April 22, 2009

BIG US Supreme Court news!!!

Arizona v. Gant, decided on April 21, 2009, will change the criminal legal landscape for the foreseeable future.  The great significance of this case is that motor vehicle searches following the arrest of the occupants will no longer be upheld as legal searches where the occupants have been secured and no longer have access to the vehicle interior.  In many cases, drugs and weapons are found following routine traffic stops and arrests for innocuous offenses such as bail violations or warrants for arrest.  

The following is a synopsis of the decision... Argued October 7, 2008, Decided April 21, 2009... Respondent Gant was arrested for driving on a suspended license, handcuffed, and locked in a patrol car before officers searched his car and found cocaine in a jacket pocket.  The Arizona trial court denied his motion to suppress the evidence, and he was convicted of drug offenses.  Reversing, the State Supreme Court distinguished New York v. Belton, 453 U. S. 454, which held that police may search the passenger compartment of a vehicle and any containers therein as a contemporaneous incident of a recent occupant's lawful arrest on the ground that it concerned the scope of a search incident to arrest but did not answer the question whether officers may conduct such a search once the scene has been secured.  Because Chimel v. California, 395 U. S. 752, requires that a search incident to arrest be justified by either the interest in officer safety or the interest in preserving evidence and the circumstances of Gant's arrest implicated neither of those interests, the State Supreme Court found the search unreasonable.  Held: Police may search the passenger compartment of a vehicle incident to a recent occupant's arrest only if it is reasonable to believethat the arrestee might access the vehicle at the time of the search or that the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of arrest.

 216 Ariz. 1, 162 P. 3d 640, affirmed.

 STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which SCALIA, SOUTER, THOMAS, and GINSBURG, JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., filed a concurring opinion. BREYER, J., filed a dissenting opinion. ALITO, J.,  filed a dissenting opinion, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and KENNEDY, J.,  joined, and in which BREYER, J., joined except as to Part II