In Arizona v Gant, the United States Supreme Court has just done something that I didn’t think it capable of doing — finding that the police exceeded consitutional limits and violated an accused’s rights. Stop. Some are wondering, “what’s the big deal?” This happens all the time — “bad guys getting off on a technicality. Courts stepping . . . etc. Wrong!!! This decision is startlingly rare! For many months, I have groused about the Roberts’ Supreme Court stabbing the Exlcusionary Rule, the rule that excludes illegally obtained evidence in a criminal case, in the gut. I shuddered to think what was next — the police would be free to do whatever it wanted and admit evidence found illegally regardless. Without the exclusionary rule, the Fourth Amendment was a paper, toothless tiger . . . foreboding and imposing but really harmless. With the exclusinary rule, the police must step wisely in order to use the evidence they obtain . . . thus protecting our rights in the process. I have always valued this approach to the law — that the ends do not justify the means. However, I was concerned that some members of the judiciary disagreed . . . in fact, I was more than concerned, I was convinced.
In Arizona v Gant, an unlikey group of justices (liberals and conservatives and whatever Scalia calls himself) banded together to issue an opinion that for a moment restored some of my faith in the Supreme Court. For years, whenever someone was arrested in their vehicle, the police without any cause or reason to believe that a weapon or contraband was nearby in the vehicle, the police could search the entire interior passenger compartment! Without cause or reason! Gant changed that . . . now the police may only search the interior of a vehicle incident to arrest if the arrested was unsecured and within reaching distance of the interior of the car. Moreover, they may search when there is reason to believe that the interior of the vehicle contains evidence of the crime for which the accused was arrested. In traffic cases, this is rare. What does this all mean? It means that the Court restored and breathed some new life into the 4th Amendment. No more can the police arrest someone on an offense of driving while lice suspended and then search the interior of the vehicle as though they were named “Pablo Escobar, Jr.”. No more can the police take someone into custody and then search through their car willy-nilly. In other words, the police must have “a reason” to do so.
A reason. Reasonable. The very threshold that our founding fathers thought of when they drafted the 4th Amendment — the protection from unwarranted searches. I “gant” believe it . . . but its true. The Supreme Court has breathed new life into the 4th Amendment.