Search Limitations (For Police, Not Google)

April 23, 2009

For 28 years, police in the U.S. have operated under the assumption that if they pull you over, they can search your car. Everyone who's ever watched an episode of Matlock knows that. But the wacky judicial body known as the U.S. Supreme Court just turned that shiznit on its head, yo.

Here's how it all went down: Rodney Gant was pulled over in Arizona and arrested. (Things like that can happen when you have an outstanding warrant for driving with a suspended license.) While Rodney was enjoying his new, stainless steel bracelets in the back of the squad car, the police were all, like, "Dude, let's check the car." And they did. And they found cocaine and a gun. Sounds like someone was having a party.

Gant sued, his case went all the way up the legal ladder, and the Supremes just handed him a victory. Here's a bit from the majority opinion:

Vehicle searches should be allowed only in two situations, [Justice John Paul Stevens] wrote: when the person being arrested is close enough to the car to reach in, possibly to grab a weapon or tamper with evidence; or when the arresting officer reasonably believes that the car contains evidence pertinent to the very crime that prompted the arrest.

That decision is notable not only because it overturns a well-established legal precedent, but also because it caused the court to split 5-4 along very odd lines: Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsberg sided with Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. What next? Bill Gates working for Apple? Obama and Bush cutting a jazz album? Cats and dogs lying down together? It's mayhem, we tells ya.

[source: NYTimes]

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