Supreme Court Limits Warrantless Vehicle Searches
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Supreme Court Limits Warrantless Vehicle Searches
Posted by CN Staff on April 21, 2009 at 13:47:00 PT
By Mark Sherman, Associated Press Writer
Source: Seattle Times 
Washington, D.C. -- The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that police need a warrant to search the vehicle of someone they have arrested if the person is locked up in a patrol cruiser and poses no safety threat to officers.The court's 5-4 decision in a case from Arizona puts new limits on the ability of police to search a vehicle immediately after the arrest of a suspect, particularly when the alleged offense is nothing more serious than a traffic violation.
Justice John Paul Stevens said in the majority opinion that warrantless searches still may be conducted if a car's passenger compartment is within reach of a suspect who has been removed from the vehicle or there is reason to believe evidence will be found of the crime that led to the arrest."When these justifications are absent, a search of an arrestee's vehicle will be unreasonable unless police obtain a warrant," Stevens said.Justice Samuel Alito, in dissent, complained that the decision upsets police practice that has developed since the court, 28 years ago, first authorized warrantless searches of cars immediately following an arrest."There are cases in which it is unclear whether an arrestee could retrieve a weapon or evidence," Alito said.Even more confusing, he said, is asking police to determine whether the vehicle contains evidence of a crime. "What this rule permits in a variety of situations is entirely unclear," Alito said.Stevens conceded that police academies teach the more permissive practice and that law enforcement officers have relied on it. Yet, he said, "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."Fordham University law professor Dan Capra said the ruling "will have a major impact when the driver is arrested for a traffic offense." When police have probable cause to arrest someone for drug crimes, Capra said, they ordinarily will be able to search a car in pursuit of illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia.Prosecutors and police instructors were generally disappointed with the decision.Tom Hammarstrom, executive director of the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, said training for law officers would be adjusted to conform to the high court's ruling.Devallis Rutledge, special counsel to the Los Angeles County district attorney, said he was working on formulating advice for prosecutors on how to apply the court's decision."It's not the kind of clear-cut guidance that police officers, lawyers and judges need. It substantially overrules a 28-year-old precedent that we've all relied on," Rutledge said.Police officers have been "doing the safe thing" by searching vehicles after securing suspects to make sure they aren't a safety threat. "That's been the way they've been taught and the way they've been trained," Rutledge said. "Now, we will lose the evidence they obtained" in some cases.He said the new rules might even make it harder to catch criminals, noting that evidence found during a vehicle search when someone is arrested for a relatively minor crime can lead to greater charges, such as drug offenses or even murder.The decision backs an Arizona high court ruling in favor of Rodney Joseph Gant, who was handcuffed, seated in the back of a patrol car and under police supervision when Tucson, Ariz., police officers searched his car. They found cocaine and drug paraphernalia.The trial court said the evidence could be used against Gant, but Arizona appeals courts overturned the convictions because the officers already had secured the scene and thus faced no threat to their safety or concern about evidence being preserved.Gant was placed under arrest for driving on a suspended license and he already was at least 8 feet away from his car when he was arrested.Arizona, backed by the Bush administration and 25 other states, complained that a decision in favor of Gant would impose a "dangerous and unworkable test" that would complicate the daily lives of law enforcement officers.But civil liberties groups argued that police routinely invade suspects' privacy by conducting warrantless searches when there is no chance suspects could have access to their vehicles. The groups also suggested that police would not increase the danger to themselves by leaving suspects unrestrained and near their cars just to justify a search in the absence of a warrant.The justices divided in an unusual fashion. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia, David Souter and Clarence Thomas joined the majority opinion. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer and Anthony Kennedy were in dissent along with Alito.Scalia said in a separate opinion that he would allow warrantless searches only to look for "evidence of the crime for which the arrest was made, or of another crime that the officer has probable cause to believe occurred." He said he joined Stevens' opinion anyway because there otherwise would not have been a majority for that view and Alito's desire to maintain current police practice "is the greater evil."The case is Arizona v. Gant, 07-542.Staff writers Robert Jablon in Los Angeles and Arthur H. Rotstein in Tucson, Ariz., contributed to this report.Source: Seattle Times (WA)Author: Mark Sherman, Associated Press WriterPublished:  April 21, 2009Copyright: 2009 The Seattle Times CompanyContact: opinion seatimes.comWebsite: Justice Archives
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Comment #8 posted by FoM on April 22, 2009 at 16:35:00 PT
charmed quark
Go New Jersey! At this rate soon the whole northeastern part of the country will have a decrim or medical marijuana law. Yippie!
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Comment #7 posted by charmed quark on April 22, 2009 at 16:30:21 PT
NJ AG says medical marijuana bill "workable"
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Comment #6 posted by knightshade on April 22, 2009 at 05:58:15 PT:
so just to paraphrase this article
your 4th amendment rights are now a LITTLE more protectedUNLESS you show signs of being a FILTHY DRUG USER!
herb is the word
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Comment #5 posted by OverwhelmSam on April 22, 2009 at 05:09:05 PT
No Liberties with our Liberty
The cops are pissed about this ruling. From now on, when a police officer asks if he can search your car, Just Say No! There might be "items" in your car that even you don't know about. Not to mention the all too often occurance of police planting something in your car to frame you. Like I said, Just Say No to search requests.
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Comment #4 posted by Had Enough on April 21, 2009 at 22:24:15 PT
People United for Medical Marijuana - Florida
People United for Medical Marijuana (PUFMM) - FloridaWe are more than just a group. We are registered voters willing to sign a petition to show our support for medical marijuana. We are a political committee registered with the state of Florida to restore patients' rights to receive safe, affordable and effective medication. We are collecting signatures to amend the constitution.Please write and tell your representatives to support medical marijuana in the state of Florida, and tell your Congressmen to Re-Introduce HR 5842 for Federal Medical Marijuana. Write your media outlets demanding more information about medical marijuana. There are thousands of reports on medicinal marijuana's effects. Let your favorite source for news know you want to learn more.This is the easiest way to collect thousands of signatures quickly and easily. Be ready. If you are not registered to vote, register now!Tell your friends...
Write your letters...
Donate.Spend ten minutes a week writing one letter, invite 20 people, and donate $5. We will get this done!Fourteen states currently have laws for medical marijuana. And nine others are on their way. It's time to add Florida to the list.CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD AND SIGN THE MEDICAL MARIJUANA INITIATIVE!!! Info:Email:_________info pufmm.comWebsite_______ http://www.pufmm.orgLocation:_______P.O. Box 560296______________Orlando, FL
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Comment #3 posted by Canis420 on April 21, 2009 at 19:26:47 PT:
Tampa May 2nd Protest
I just recieved this from the Tampa hemp councilOkay,.. the votes are in, and this years location for the rally for cannabis emancipation, is (once again), the Tampa office of the DEA. 
Seems I'm not the only one outraged by their conduct. -- That's 4950 W. Kennedy Blvd. Tampa, FL 33609 from 1:pm to 4:pm on Sat., May 2nd. -- Just south of Westshore Mall. -- So come on out and show your solidarity for Cannabis emancipation. Bring your signs and banners, bring your friends, bring some water (it can get really hot out there), but please don't bring anything that could get you in trouble. Also, this is a peaceful demonstration. Not everyone will agree with you,.. or calmly disagree. So don't be provoked into something we would all regret. Take the high road. Please. -- Something else you could bring,... go to this site: 
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Comment #2 posted by MikeC on April 21, 2009 at 18:44:25 PT
Very nice...
Good luck New York!Maybe it's just me but it seems like a single day hasn't gone by without positive news on Marijuana in a long time.
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on April 21, 2009 at 18:34:31 PT
NY: Medical Marijuana Bill Introduced in Albany
April 22, 2009URL:
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