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Supreme Court of the United States
March 21, 2011, Argued; June 16, 2011, Decided
[*231] Justice Alito delivered the opinion of the Court.
The Fourth Amendment protects the right to be free from “unreasonable searches and seizures,” but it is silent about how this right is to be enforced. To supplement the bare text, this Court created the exclusionary rule, a deterrent [*232] sanction that bars the prosecution from introducing evidence obtained by way of a Fourth Amendment violation. The question here is whether to apply this sanction when the police conduct a search in compliance with binding precedent that is later overruled. Because suppression would do nothing to deter police misconduct in these [****6] circumstances, and because it would come at a high cost to both the truth and the public safety, we hold that searches conducted in objectively reasonable reliance [**2424] on binding appellate precedent are not subject to the exclusionary rule.
The question presented arises in this case as a result of a shift in our Fourth Amendment jurisprudence on searches of automobiles incident to arrests of recent occupants.
Under this Court's decision in Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752, 89 [***291] S. Ct. 2034, 23 L. Ed. 2d 685 (1969), a police officer who makes a lawful arrest may conduct a warrantless search of the arrestee's person and the area “within his immediate control.” Id., at 763, 89 S. Ct. 2034, 23 L. Ed. 2d 685 (internal quotation marks omitted). This rule “may be stated clearly enough,” but in the early going after Chimel it proved difficult to apply, particularly in cases that involved searches “inside [of] automobile[s] after the arrestees [we]re no longer in [them].” See New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454, 458-459, 101 S. Ct. 2860, 69 L. Ed. 2d 768 (1981). A number of courts upheld the constitutionality of vehicle searches that were “substantially contemporaneous” with occupants' arrests.1 Other courts disapproved of automobile searches incident to arrests, at least absent some continuing threat [****7] that the arrestee might gain access to the vehicle and “destroy evidence or grab a [*233] weapon.”2 In New York v. Belton, this Court granted certiorari to resolve the conflict. See id., at 459-460, 101 S. Ct. 2860, 69 L. Ed. 2d 76.
In Belton, a police officer conducting a traffic stop lawfully arrested four occupants of a vehicle and ordered the arrestees to line up, unhandcuffed, along the side of the thruway. Id., at 456, 101 S. Ct. 2860, 69 L. Ed. 2d 76; see Brief for Petitioner in New York v. Belton, O. T. 1980, No. 80-328, p. 3. The officer then searched the vehicle's passenger compartment and found cocaine inside a jacket that lay on the backseat. Belton, 453 U.S., at 456, 101 S. Ct. 2860, 69 L. Ed. 2d 76. This Court upheld the search as reasonable incident to the occupants' arrests. In an opinion that repeatedly stressed the need for a “straightforward,” [****8] “workable rule” to guide police conduct, the Court announced “that when a policeman has made a lawful custodial arrest of the occupant of an automobile, he may, as a contemporaneous incident of that arrest, search the passenger compartment of that automobile.” Id., at 459-460, 101 S. Ct. 2860, 69 L. Ed. 2d 76 (footnote omitted).
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564 U.S. 229 *; 131 S. Ct. 2419 **; 180 L. Ed. 2d 285 ***; 2011 U.S. LEXIS 4560 ****; 79 U.S.L.W. 4495; 68 A.L.R. Fed. 2d 665; 22 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 1144
WILLIE GENE DAVIS, Petitioner v. UNITED STATES
Prior History: [****1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT.
United States v. Davis, 598 F.3d 1259, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 5131 (11th Cir. Ala., Mar. 11, 2010)
Disposition: 598 F.3d 1259, affirmed.
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Constitutional Law, Fundamental Rights, Search & Seizure, Exclusionary Rule, Criminal Law & Procedure, Exclusionary Rule, Rule Application & Interpretation, Scope of Protection