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Police: Vehicle search ruling will handcuff investigations

Posted April 27, 2009
Updated May 1, 2009

— Area law enforcement officials are criticizing a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that redefines when vehicles can be searched.

The high court ruled 5-4 last week in Arizona v. Gant that officers can no longer search any vehicle simply because of a traffic stop.

Officer during traffic stop Court ruling limits vehicle searches

The case stemmed from a traffic stop in Arizona in which Rodney Gant was pulled over for driving with a suspended license. While he was handcuffed an sitting in the back of a police cruiser, officers searched his car and found some drugs.

He argued that the search was illegal, and the Supreme Court agreed. The court ruled that, when officers don't have a search warrant, they must have an owner's consent for a general search of a vehicle. Otherwise, they must limit the search to evidence linked to the reason for the traffic stop or must prove the search was necessary to prevent a suspect from grabbing a weapon or destroying evidence of a crime.

The decision changes a 28-year-old rule that had authorized law enforcement officers to conduct warrant-less vehicle searches during traffic stops.

"It changes the way the police department has to operate. It does give more rights to the drivers of the vehicles," said Sgt. Chris Clayton of the Garner Police Department. "If they give consent, then we'll search the car based on that consent."

Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez said he disagrees with the ruling, noting that vehicle searches often turn up guns, drugs or other contraband.

"Most individuals who are arrested have evidence of other crimes they've committed in their cars. That's all going to be lost," Lopez said. "This means ... that I have to retrain my officers."

Officers said they wouldn't let the ruling keep them from doing their jobs.

"It's another rule," said Officer Pete Moore of the Garner Police Department. "We're not trying to stomp on people's rights. We're just trying to do our job."


This story is closed for comments.

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  • thnbluln Apr 28, 2009

    this is ridiculous. So therefore, we are left with three-four options: K-9 sniff, consent search, warrant, or we TOW it....have to do an invontory. And we all know we can NOT leave that car on the side of the rode. However, not sure how happy the chief(s) will be when we are towing several cars a night. I hope this is overturned it is giving criminals too many rights. I mean for crying out loud Walmart practices Illegal Search and Seizure everyday bu demanding your receipt. I have seen it posted where you have to produce it nor do they have a right to look into MY PROPERTY!!! Come on Supreme Court get with it!

  • Tommylee Apr 28, 2009


  • leo-nc Apr 28, 2009

    "It only takes probable cause or search incident to arrest to search the vehicle"----

    The whole point of this story is that search incident to arrest is nothing like what it used to be.

  • kal Apr 28, 2009

    good job-give the criminals more rights-like they don't have enough already.

  • anonemoose Apr 28, 2009

    I've already read Farb and SRS. Looks like will be okay to look for alcohol for a DWI charge, but that's it unless something else gets you in. Best bet is going to be a good towing / inventory policy that's followed.

  • lizard Apr 27, 2009

    It only takes probable cause or search incident to arrest to search the vehicle. No warrant has ever been necessary since Carroll v. US in 1925. Things with wheels don't have to have warrants to be searched.

    This may have changed. Hard to tell with the way news is reported. Sounds like somebody didn't testify correctly/completely. I'll wait for the police atty's briefing, thank-you.

  • colliedave Apr 27, 2009

    If there is probable cause, just get a search warrent.

  • gopher Apr 27, 2009

    So wake up a judge, if there is probable cause, I have watched the show "COP'S", and they usually ask for premmision to search anyway.