In the case of the State of Arizona v. Gant, the question being addressed before the court was whether or not, under the 4th Amendment, law enforcement officers need to have their safety threatened or a need to preserve evidence in order to search a vehicle without a warrant after the occupants have been arrested.
Arizona state police arrested Rodney Gant on an outstanding warrant for driving a motor vehicle with a suspended license. The officers handcuffed Gant and he was placed in their squad car. He was locked inside of the car. After Gant was secured, police searched his vehicle. They found a handgun and a plastic bag which contained cocaine.
At trial, Gant requested that the evidence found during the search of his car be dismissed. He claimed that it violated his 4th Amendment rights which prohibit unreasonable search and seizure. The judge declined Gant’s request. The judge’s rationale was that the search was a result of Gant’s arrest, which was made under lawful circumstances. Therefore, the warrant was not required and there was an exception granted to the 4th Amendment search and seizure under the circumstances of the case.
Gant appealed his conviction and the Arizona Court of Appeals found in favor of Gant. They held that the search was unconstitutional. The Arizona Supreme Court agreed with the Arizona Court of Appeals. The Arizona Supreme Court’s rationale was that exceptions to the 4th Amendment requirements for a warrant must be backed by justifiable concerns for officer safety or the preservation of evidence. Gant voluntarily left his vehicle. In doing so, he did not expect it to be searched. The search was not directly linked to his arrest since the arrest was for an outstanding warrant. The search was in violation of the 4th Amendment.
The case was brought in front of the Supreme Court of the United States to determine if a search conducted by law enforcement officials after an arrest, in which the defendant is placed in handcuffs, and the securing of the crime scene, a violation of the 4th Amendment under the protection of unreasonable searches and seizures.
The Supreme Court of the United States found in favor of Gant with a 5-4 decision. The Court wrote in its decision that police may search the vehicle of its most recent occupant only if the defendant might again access the vehicle which contains evidence related to the arrest. In the case of Gant, the arrest was made on a separate charge. Additionally, Gant was in handcuffs and secured in the back of a locked police car. The Court stated that “warrantless searches are per se unreasonable” and can occur only in a few circumstances. The officers acted too liberally in this matter when they decided to search the car on an unrelated charge.
The officers had made their decision based on the case New York v. Belton which occurred under very different circumstances. In Belton, the arrest was tied directly to the search. There were more defendants than officers. There was also a question on whether or not the evidence would be destroyed if the search was not done immediately. Time was of the essence. All of these details were different in Gant’s case.
I do agree that the officers acted too liberally. The police officers were justified in arresting Gant on the outstanding warrant. They had met him earlier in the day when they had first come to the home where he was later arrested on the premises. He misidentified himself to the officers. When they were able to correctly identify him and link his outstanding warrant, including a suspended driver’s license, to him, the arrest was justified upon his return. Gant did cooperate. He exited his vehicle and surrendered to the police, was handcuffed, and placed in the back of the squad car. He was right to be charged with driving on a revoked license as he was observed by the police engaging in this act. He also could be charged with providing a false identity. The evidence in the subsequent search should not have been found and therefore should not be admissible (Oyez, 2008).
Arizona v. Gant. (2008). The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. Retrieved from