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2/26/2008
US Supreme Court to Hear Car Search Case
The US Supreme Court will review an Arizona case that limited the ability of police to search automobiles.

US Supreme Court
The Supreme Court announced yesterday that it will decide whether to dramatically expand -- or restrict -- the ability of police to perform warrantless automobile searches. The court will do so by reviewing Arizona v Gant, a case where Arizona's highest court ruled that police needed to obtain a warrant before searching a car belonging to a suspect who posed no danger to the police (view ruling).

"In this technological age, when warrants can be obtained within minutes, it is not unreasonable to require that police officers obtain search warrants when they have probable cause to do so to protect a citizen's right to be free from unreasonable governmental searches," the Arizona Supreme Court concluded. "The evidence obtained as a result of the unlawful search must therefore be suppressed."

Groups representing police disagreed and filed the federal challenge. The National Association of Police Organizations, Arizona's attorney general and the County of Los Angeles, California joined to urge the US Supreme Court to find that police have an unlimited right to search any vehicle after arresting its occupant on any charge. The ruling, either way, would set a nationwide precedent.

In the 1981 case New York v Belton, the supreme court had held that warrantless vehicle searches were allowed because of the risks to officer safety and the need to preserve evidence. The high court will reconsider the Gant case in the context of the following question:

"Did the Arizona Supreme Court effectively 'overrule' this court's bright-line rule in Belton by requiring in each case that the state prove after-the-fact that those inherent dangers actually existed at the time of the search?"

Arguments in the case are expected to begin in the fall.



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