CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Sunday, July 29, 2007

AZ Court Says Police Cannot Routinely Search Arrestee's Cars

From recommended by Flynn Carey: Police cannot routinely search the vehicles of people whom they arrest, the Arizona Supreme Court has ruled.

In a 3-2 decision, the high court threw out the drug-possession conviction of Rodney Gant. The majority said Tucson police illegally searched his car after arresting him outside the vehicle. The search found narcotics that eventually resulted in his conviction.
Justice Rebecca Berch, writing for the majority, said police have the authority in some circumstances to search a vehicle without a warrant. But she said those instances usually are limited to situations of police safety — such as looking for a weapon in the immediate area of the person being arrested — or where waiting for a warrant might result in destruction of evidence.
She noted, though, that Gant already was handcuffed and in the back of a patrol car. That, Berch said, means the Tucson Police Department violated Gant's Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.
Justice Scott Bales, writing the dissent, said his colleagues were misinterpreting the law. He said searches of vehicles are reasonable and legal when someone who has been in the car is legally arrested.

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