Local Law Enforcement Trains to Make Changes in Procedure After Supreme Court Decision
Law enforcement officers nationwide no longer have the ability to search a vehicle and seize evidence after an arrest is already made, the U.S. Supreme Court mandated in an April decision.
That decision will undoubtedly affect local law enforcement’s search and seizure tactics, but it comes with some conditions, said Centralia Police Chief Bob Berg.
Prior to the April 21 ruling on the State of Arizona v. Joseph Gant case, federal law essentially allowed officers to search a vehicle after an
arrest was made to obtain evidence — like drugs, open containers or guns — and bring additional charges against the arrestee.
Now, an officer’s authority in searching a vehicle after an arrest is significantly reduced. Upon arrest, an officer can search the vehicle only if: the arrestee is not secured, is within reach of their vehicle and could destroy evidence, or the officer has a reasonable belief that they will find evidence relevant to the reason for arrest.
Chief Berg gave an example:
An officer observes a suspect smoking marijuana in his vehicle. That man is arrested for possession of marijuana, and the officer has a reasonable belief that there is marijuana in the car because of the observation.
Had that man been pulled over for a traffic infraction and arrested, the officer would not have the authority to search the vehicle.
The decision caused changes in all venues of Lewis County’s law enforcement system, and caused major problems for some.
Lewis County Prosecutor Michael Golden said he’s had to dismiss charges in 17 cases since the decision came out in April, simply because the officers in question searched a vehicle after a traffic stop arrest.
More than half of all drug possession charges are realized during those types of traffic stops, Golden said.
“This really puts a crimp on some of our law enforcement work,” Chief Berg said. “It doesn’t bode well for the citizens of our community, either.”
Officers can still search a vehicle if they have probable cause to do so. Probable cause can come from an officer’s observation, such as a bag with what looks like drugs within sight distance in the car, or a search warrant granted by a judge.
Still, the decision will mean changes.
Both Berg and Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield said the likelihood of an increased number of search warrant applications is high. Berg also said some suspicious cars just won’t be searched at all, as the decision mandates.
“I do not like this, and I think it does tie our hands to some extent,” Sheriff Mansfield said. “But it’s not the end of the world. We’re gonna do our job like we always have.”
Local and state law enforcement agencies are actively running training sessions covering the changes they’ll have to make. The time taken to complete a traffic stop will probably increase as well, Sheriff Mansfield said.
What the decision won’t mean, Berg said, is an increased risk of injury to his officers.
“I will support any officer that searches a vehicle for their own safety,” Berg said. The evidence, like a gun, “may get thrown out in court, but if the search is for their safety, it’s a first priority.”
The ruling will not affect closed cases, Golden said. Only current cases not in the Court of Appeals can be affected by the decision.
Search and Seizure
By The Chronicle
After a U.S. Supreme Court decision in April, search and seizure laws have changed for officers. To search a car after a suspect has been arrested, an officer must:
• Prove probable cause by obtaining a search warrant or by observing a criminal act worthy of arrest (i.e., a bag of drugs in sight range inside the car, a gun on the console).
• Prove that the arrestee was within “lunge” distance or reach of the vehicle and evidence inside might be destroyed.
The Arizona v. Gant Decision
By The Chronicle
Rodney Gant was arrested in Tucson, Arizona on suspicion of driving with a suspended license, according to court documents. Officers arrested him after he had parked his car and was walking toward a friend’s house.
After he was secured in the patrol car, officers searched his vehicle, finding a bag of cocaine and a gun. Gant was convicted with unlawful possession of a gun and the drug.
The decision was reversed by the Arizona Supreme Court when they found that the search was in violation of his constitutional rights against illegal search and seizure.
By Andy Campbell firstname.lastname@example.org