Search and Seizure: Appeals Court Restricts Scope

David Lindsey, Attorney at Law

By David Lindsey Attorney of David Lindsey, Attorney at Law posted in Search and Seizure on Thursday, September 27, 2012.

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals has issued new search and seizure guidelines for police officers conducting a warrantless search of vehicles after making a lawful arrest.

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The court has rejected an argument that there are some crimes where warrantless searches are always justified; it asserted instead that a search conducted without a warrant is not an assumed privilege for law enforcement, but rather a narrow exception.

In Arizona v. Gant, the US Supreme Court has held that automobile searches should be limited to those instances in which “the arrestee is unsecured and within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search.” In other words, law enforcement may only engage in a warrantless search of the vehicle in order to safeguard evidence that an arrestee might conceal or destroy. The Court of Appeals has likewise concluded that officers “must have reasonable, articulable suspicion’ in order to carry out such a search, such as the smell of alcohol in the car or a visible container or cup with liquid in it.

The US Attorney has declined to comment, but the defendant’s attorney, Washington solo practitioner Jonathan Daily, said by phone that the decision was “an amazing affirmation of the trial court.” He feels that the decision will “resonate through all fifty states as to the protection of the Fourth Amendment.” We will be watching closely to see if and how this ruling affects search and seizure laws across the country

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