“Police may search the passenger compartment of a vehicle incident to a recent occupant's arrest only if it is reasonable to believe that the arrestee might access the vehicle at the time of the search or that the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of arrest.” United States Supreme Court in Arizona v. Gant, April 21, 2009.
With these words, on April 21, 2009, the Supreme Court changed law that had been in place for 28 years. The change in the law deals with the rights of citizens regarding a search of the inside of a vehicle. Previously, if a driver was arrested for some offence, officers could search the interior of the vehicle as part of the arrest. It was rationalized as being, “incident to the arrest.” That is no longer a legal search. The interior of a car is now, for most arrest purposes, apparently about like a house. There must be some reasonable belief that the car contains some evidence related to the arrest or that the arrestee might access the vehicle at the time of the search. Things in plain view can reasonably form the basis for a further search.
The court has taken a step that will be hailed by some as a gain for personal liberty and by others as the loss of an important Law Enforcement practice and guideline. Those are two opposing and competing viewpoints. These competing views and the way that this court decision sets the boundary between those two viewpoints is an example of our form of government in action. The court has acted to set a boundary for citizens beyond which government must not go. Exactly where that line is, is not as important as the fact that a line is drawn. This also proves that the line can move. Government in motion?
From my point of view, I do not have a problem with the search of the inside of a vehicle if the person driving has been conducting his life in manner that there is an arrest warrant outstanding or he or she is committing a criminal law violation like driving while license is suspended or reckless driving or DUI. Searching the car when a person is arrested driving, does not offend my sense of what the right to the privacy of the car should be.
A car is not a house.