Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Search and Siezure - Landmark case from SCOTUS

It isn't often a landmark case on the issue of search and siezure comes down from the Supreme Court on the side of the defense, but that's just what happened Monday in the case of Arizona v Gant.

In case after case, and certainly in many Illinois DUI arrests, officers freely search the vehicle of the suspect in custody without regard to any Constitutional considerations, and some of those DUI cases become Illinois criminal defense matters as well. The old rule was fairly put as - if you are under arrest, your car is subject to search under the theoretical need of the officer to secure the scene and maintain "officer safety". In other words, if you were in cuffs in the back of the squad car, the officer could make sure there wasn't a knife or gun in the glove compartment so that you couldn't exit the locked squad car, uncuff yourself, knock the officer over the head, grab the gun and shoot him. Obviously a very likely scenario.

The new rule makes more sense. When the police arrest someone in a vehicle, the officer can search the vehicle only under one of two circumstances. In very basic terms, those two circumstances are:
  • The suspect might in some way gain access to the vehicle; or
  • The officer is searching for evidence related to the reason for the arrest.
Other than that, searching a vehicle is a non-starter. In Arizona v Gant, the police arrested Gant for driving with a suspended license, and promptly locked him safely away in handcuffs in the back of their squad car. They then rifled through his car and found cocaine in a jacket on the seat of the vehicle, and charged him with possession of a controlled substance. The Supreme Court acted to protect the sanctity of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and to protect you.
What do you think about Arizona v Gant?

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