The Supreme Court affirmed Wednesday that police have the power to conduct searches and seize evidence, even when done during an arrest that turns out to have violated state law. The unanimous decision comes in a case from Portsmouth, Va., where city detectives seized crack cocaine from a motorist after arresting him for a traffic ticket offense.
David Lee Moore was pulled over for driving on a suspended license. The violation is a minor crime in Virginia and calls for police to issue a court summons and let the driver go. Instead, city detectives arrested Moore, and prosecutors say that drugs taken from him in the subsequent search can be used against him as evidence.
Moore argued that the Fourth Amendment permits a search only following a lawful state arrest. The Virginia Supreme Court ruled that police should have released Moore and could not lawfully conduct a search. State law, said the Virginia Supreme Court, restricted officers to issuing a ticket in exchange for a promise to appear later in court. Virginia courts dismissed the indictment against Moore.
The Supreme Court disagreed. "We reaffirm against a novel challenge what we have signaled for half a century," Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote. Scalia said that when officers have probable cause to believe a person has committed a crime in their presence, the Fourth Amendment permits them to make an arrest and to search the suspect in order to safeguard evidence and ensure their own safety.
I'm disappointed but hardly surprised to hear this. Ever since the Supreme Court revoked the right to privacy for your car a few years ago, also in the name of our misguided war on some drugs, this was almost certainly inevitable. Remember, kids - Cops can search your car (and anyone in your car) at any time, for any reason (including no reason), whether you have committed a crime or not, whether you are under arrest or not, and the Supreme Court says that it's a-ok. Whether you're a driver or a passenger, you have no right to privacy what so ever when you're in your car. None.
And that by itself is bad enough. But what seems even worse to me is that this appears to set a precedent where a police officer can "arrest first - ask questions later." If they just happen to feel like searching your house, they can arrest you at your house for no reason, search your house, and then use whatever they find against you. A back-door revocation of the 4th Amendment? Sure sounds like it to me.
To the Liberals: How much longer before they falsely arrest you, open your closet, find your banned weed... and toss you in jail?
To the Conservatives: How much longer before they falsely arrest you, open your closet, find your banned handgun... and toss you in jail?