Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fourth Amendment protections

Scott Morgan notes a recent SCOTUS decision that didn't get much attention relative to car searches. The police routinely search a car "incident to an arrest" under the premise that the officer's safety might be jeopardized by a suspect being in possession of a weapon. In reality, they pretty much search every car when the person is in custody, regardless of any safety concerns.
Well, that's finally going to change. The Supreme Court ruled today in Arizona v. Gant that vehicle searches following an arrest are legal only if the suspect has access to the vehicle or if officers reasonably believe the vehicle contains evidence related to that arrest. In other words, police are now required to have an actual reason to justify the vehicle search, instead of being allowed to do it automatically. This decision restores some much needed logic and common sense to the way many warrantless vehicle searches are analyzed under the 4th Amendment.
I'm not as optimistic as Scott is that this will lead to any significant change in the way police handle traffic arrests but it will have an applicable effect on court challenges to evidence obtained under those searches, so it's still a tiny step forward to restoring our Fourth Amendment rights. And if the challenges succeed to any great degree in suppressing evidence, it may well create a disincentive for LEOs to make fishing expedition arrests in the long run. So there's that.

[More posts daily at The Detroit News]

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