Arizona v. Gant (2009)

The Arizona v. Gant decision in 2009 holds in question the issue of warrantless searches and seizures and exceptions to the warrant requirement. The decision looks at the Chimel and Belton precedents to compare the case facts and evaluate if the case facts of Gant fell under the exceptions to the warrant requirement during a search and seizure. The decision in Chimel clarified that a “search incident to arrest” only includes the areas that the arrestee can physically reach. This decision was meant to protect against the loss of evidence or safety of the arresting officers. The Belton case also establishes boundaries for where the arresting officers can search, specifically regarding vehicles and traffic violations. In looking at the Gant case, the Supreme Court used the Chimel precedent to make their ruling.

In the Arizona v. Gant case, Tucson police officers received an anonymous tip that the house of Rodney Gant was being used to sell drugs. After going to the house, the police officers found out that Gant had an outstanding warrant for driving with a suspended license. Three officers returned to Gant’s house later that day and arrested a different man and woman at the house. Once Gant returned to the house, one of the officers arrested and handcuffed Gant on the charge of driving with a suspended license. The arrest was made about 10-12 feet away from the car. After placing Gant in the patrol car, the officers searched Gant’s car and found a gun and cocaine and then charged Gant with drug violations. Gant appealed to the Supreme Court saying that the evidence should be suppressed because the search was conducted without a warrant incident to the arrest, nor was there any evidence to provide for an exception to the warrant requirement. The legal question at hand is: does the search of a car without a warrant specific to the arrest on the charge of driving with a suspended license violate the fourth amendment’s search and seizure clause?

The Supreme Court ruled that yes, the use of evidence obtained without a warrant specific to Gant’s arrest is not permissible in court. The Court gave two reasons for their decision. The first reason was regarding the accessibility of the gun and cocaine in Gant’s car. Since Gant was already handcuffed and in the back of the patrol car, there is no way that he could’ve accessed either of these items. The second was that Gant was arrested on charges of a traffic violation, so there is no reason to believe there would be any evidence related to his arrest in his car, so the police could not have made the case that it was reasonable for them to search the car without a warrant incident to the arrest.

I completely agree with the Supreme Court’s decision. I think this case represents a huge issue that we see today in the criminal justice system in that police officers often overstep the boundaries of the law to be too harsh on vulnerable citizens. I think this is mostly seen in the issue of racial profiling in traffic violations. Police officers have a lot of power in these situations because many people are not familiar enough with their rights to be able to argue with a police officer when asked that their car be searched even if the individual was only pulled over for running a stop sign. Police officers are figures of authority and I personally would be very hesitant to argue with an officer and I would be nervous about seeming guilty even if I haven’t done anything wrong. I think it’s also important to highlight the obvious fact of this case that under the charges of a traffic violation, there is virtually no physical evidence that you can connect to the charge so the Supreme Court really could’ve just stopped at that fact in saying that it is reason enough to overturn the lower court’s ruling.

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