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Arizona v. Gant, 129 S.Ct. 1710 (U.S. 2009).

Legality of Warrantless Search

In Arizona v. Gant the Supreme Court departs from the bright-line rule defined in New York v. Belton regarding automobile searches incident to arrest. In Belton the Court held that police may search the passenger compartment of a vehicle and any containers therein as a contemporaneous incident of a recent occupant's lawful arrest-on the ground that it concerned the scope of a search incident to arrest. However the Belton Court declined to answer the question of whether officers may conduct a search once the scene has been secured. In Gant, the Court defines Belton as not authorizing a vehicle search incident to a recent occupant's arrest after the arrestee has been secured and cannot access the interior of the vehicle.

Here, the search was unreasonable because police could not reasonably have believed either that the defendant could have accessed his car at the time of the search or that evidence of the offense for which he was arrested might have been found therein. The Supreme Court held that the police may search the passenger compartment of a vehicle incident to a recent occupant's arrest only if it is reasonable to believe that the arrestee might access the vehicle at the time of the search or that the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of arrest.

Exceptions to the warrant requirement include: when an arrestee is within reaching distance of the vehicle, when it is reasonable to believe the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of arrest, and when safety or evidentiary concerns demand.

Please click here to read more about United States Supreme Court case of Arizona v. Gant.