Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Supreme Court says police may search even if arrest invalid

By PETE YOST - Associated Press Writer
Published 9:05 am PDT Wednesday, April 23, 2008

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 a
subsequent search can be used against him as evidence.

"We reaffirm against a novel challenge what we have
signaled for half a century," Justice Antonin Scalia

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.

Moore was convicted on a drug charge and sentenced to
3 1/2 years in prison.

The Virginia Supreme Court ruled that police should
have released Moore and could not lawfully conduct a

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.

Moore argued that the Fourth Amendment permits a
search only following a lawful state arrest.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
said she finds more support for Moore's position in
previous court cases than the rest of the court does.
But she said she agrees that the arrest and search of
Moore was constitutional, even though it violated
Virginia law.

The Bush administration and attorneys general from 18
states lined up in support of Virginia prosecutors.

The federal government said Moore's case had the
potential to greatly increase the class of
unconstitutional arrests, resulting in evidence seized
during searches being excluded with increasing

Looking to state laws to provide the basis for
searches would introduce uncertainty into the legal
system, the 18 states said in court papers.

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