The World turned Upside Down: 4th amendment WIN

(11 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

The 4th amendment received a shot of life from the Supreme Court today.  In Belton (453 US 454), the rule was taken that once the police arrest someone in a car they have the right to search the vehicle under the theory that the suspect might grab a weapon from the vehicle, even though he was removed from the vehicle and handcuffed.  The Supremes now say that is not what they meant, that the law

authorizes police to search a vehicle incident to a recent occupant’s arrest only when the arrestee is unsecured and within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search.

There are exceptions, including the right to search for evidence of the crime the suspect is arrested for that might still be in the car, and inventory searches were undiscussed (on a quick reading), but this is a major change from the current state of the case law, and will require in California that many of the awful cases that our supreme’s have decided are overturned.

Interestingly, Scalia, Souter, Thomas and Ginsburg signed on to Stevens written opinion and Alito, Roberts, Kennedy and Bryer (in part) dissented.  After a few decades in Criminal Law watching it steadily get worse with the war on drugs being the main enemy of the 4th amendment, there have been a couple of cases which Scalia has been involved with which have begun to swing back the idea that the 4th amendment still has some validity.

I’ve got to run into court-smiling, real quick, but here is a place to look:…

Updated to add a link to a more complete analysis by Adam B over at dkos.…

X-posted at Dkos and ET


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  1. Scalia???

    I don’t think I’ve ever typed that sentence before.

    • geomoo on April 22, 2009 at 00:33

    Surely the final assault is coming tonight.

    Great news!

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