Searching a Car with a Warrant - OK If Person Detained?
This was a broadly interpreted power until 2009, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Arizona v. Gant that certain Fourth Amendment privacy rights should limit the police officer’s rights to rummage through every purse, briefcase, or other containers within that space. Arizona v. Gant (2009) 556 U.S. 332, 129 S.Ct. 1710; 173 L. Ed. 2d 485. The Gant court limited the scope of the search to “evidence relevant to the crime of arrest.”Brief Synopsis: If a driver is detained after a traffic stop, officers cannot search the interior of the car based upon officer safety, as the danger to officers is eliminated once the driver is detained.
Evans continued to refuse to get out, so the officer used pepper spray, another officer broke the passenger side window and tasered Evans. Evans then got out of the car and several officers immobilized him on the ground.
Officers then searched the car, finding $65 in cash and some empty sandwich bags. The car was then taken to the police impound yard.
At the trial court level, Evans was charged with a violation of Health and Safety Code §§ 11352(a) (transportation of cocaine for sale) and 11351.5 (possession for sale), as well as misdemeanor resisting arrest (Penal Code § 148(a)(1)). He promptly moved to suppress the rock cocaine evidence seized on the basis that the warrantless search of his vehicle violated the Fourth Amendment.
The trial court denied the motion, finding that the initial search of vehicle was valid as incident to an arrest and that the second search was based upon probable cause because sandwich baggies, a common drug container, were found in the first search.
The Second Appellate District disagreed. First, it found that when the first search occurred, Evans had been tasered and detained already. He did not have access to the car’s interior. The second search was conducted while Evans was nowhere near the vehicle.
Second, the officers could not have justified the search as looking for evidence of Evans’ crime of arrest because he was arrested for interfering with a police investigation.
The Second Appellate District then reversed the judgment against Evans and remanded the case to the trial court with directions to set aside its order denying the motion to suppress. The case could then proceed with the evidence suppressed, which for Evans, meant only the resisting arrest charge, a misdemeanor.
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