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Arizona v. Gant

Supreme Court of the United States

October 7, 2008, Argued; April 21, 2009, Decided

No. 07-542

Opinion

 [*335]  [**1714]  Justice Stevens delivered the opinion of the Court.

After Rodney Gant was arrested for driving with a suspended license, handcuffed, and locked in the back of a patrol car, police officers searched his car and discovered cocaine in the pocket of a jacket on the backseat. Because Gant could not have accessed his car to retrieve weapons or evidence at the time of the search, the Arizona Supreme Court held that the search-incident-to-arrest exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement, as defined in Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752, 89 S. Ct. 2034, 23 L. Ed. 2d 685 (1960), and applied to vehicle searches in New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454, 101 S. Ct. 2860, 69 L. Ed. 2d 768 (1981), did not justify the search in this case. We agree with that conclusion.

Under Chimel, police may search incident to arrest only the space within an arrestee's "'immediate control,'" meaning "the area from within which he might gain possession of a weapon or destructible evidence." 395 U.S., at 763, 89 S. Ct. 2034, 23 L. Ed. 2d 685. The safety and evidentiary justifications underlying Chimel's reaching-distance rule determine Belton's scope.  Accordingly, we hold that Belton does not authorize a vehicle search  [****6] incident to a recent occupant's arrest after the arrestee has been secured and cannot access the interior of the vehicle. Consistent with the holding in Thornton v. United States, 541 U.S. 615, 124 S. Ct. 2127, 158 L. Ed. 2d 905 (2004), and following the suggestion in Justice Scalia's opinion concurring in the judgment in that case, id., at 632, 124 S. Ct. 2127, 158 L. Ed. 2d 905, we also conclude that circumstances unique to the automobile context justify a search incident to arrest when it is reasonable to believe that evidence of the offense of arrest might be found in the vehicle.

On August 25, 1999, acting on an anonymous tip that the residence at 2524 North Walnut Avenue was being used to sell drugs, Tucson police officers Griffith and Reed knocked on the front door and asked to speak to the owner. Gant answered the door and, after identifying himself, stated [**1715]  that  [*336]  he expected the owner to return later. The officers left the residence and conducted a records check, which revealed that Gant's driver's license had been suspended and there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest for driving with a suspended license.

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556 U.S. 332 *; 129 S. Ct. 1710 **; 173 L. Ed. 2d 485 ***; 2009 U.S. LEXIS 3120 ****; 77 U.S.L.W. 4285; 47 A.L.R. Fed. 2d 657

ARIZONA, Petitioner v. RODNEY JOSEPH GANT

Prior History:  [****1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF ARIZONA.

State v. Gant, 216 Ariz. 1, 162 P.3d 640, 2007 Ariz. LEXIS 73 (Ariz., 2007)

Disposition: 216 Ariz. 1, 162 P. 3d 640, affirmed.

CORE TERMS

arrestee, arrest, searches, passenger compartment, cases, handcuffed, weapon, search incident to arrest, arresting officer, patrol car, time of search, scene, incident to arrest, police officer, stare decisis, law enforcement, authorize, search conducted, circumstances, evidentiary, overruling, distance, contemporaneous, destructible, license, permits, jacket, law enforcement officer, warrant requirement, warrantless search

Constitutional Law, Fundamental Rights, Search & Seizure, Scope of Protection, Criminal Law & Procedure, Warrantless Searches, Search Incident to Lawful Arrest, Extent & Manner of Search, Proximity of Search to Arrest, General Overview, Governments, Courts, Judicial Precedent