When an officer has probable cause to believe a person committed even a minor crime in his presence, the balancing of private and public interests is not in doubt. The arrest is constitutionally reasonable.
Rather than issuing the summons required by Virginia law, police arrested respondent Moore for the misdemeanor of driving on a suspended license. A search incident to the arrest yielded crack cocaine, and Moore was tried on drug charges. The trial court declined to suppress the evidence on Fourth Amendment grounds. Moore was convicted. The Virginia Supreme Court reversed, reasoning that the search violated the Fourth Amendment because the arresting officers should have issued a citation under state law, and the Fourth Amendment does not permit search incident to citation.
Did the police violate the Fourth Amendment because the arresting officers should have issued a citation under state law, and the Fourth Amendment does not permit search incident to citation?
The Court held that the police did not violate the Fourth Amendment when they made an arrest that was based on probable cause but prohibited by state law, or when they performed a search incident to the arrest. The Court noted that its decisions counseled against changing the calculus that the arrest was constitutionally reasonable because there was probable cause to believe defendant committed the minor crime in the officer's presence. The Court had treated additional protections exclusively as matters of state law. Virginia chose to protect individual privacy and dignity more than the Fourth Amendment required, but it also chose not to attach to violations of its arrest rules the potent remedies that federal courts had applied to Fourth Amendment violations. while Virginia chose a more restrictive search and seizure policy, that did not render less restrictive options unconstitutional. Linking Fourth Amendment protections to state law would have meant losing a bright-line constitutional standard as well as causing that protection to vary from place to place and from time to time. Because the arrest was constitutional, the search incident to the arrest was also constitutional.