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Name: Arizona v. Gant
Case #: 07-542
Court: US Supreme Court
District USSup
Opinion Date: 04/21/2009
Subsequent History: 129 S.Ct. 1710; 173 L.Ed.2d 485

Following the recent arrest of the occupant of a vehicle, police do not have carte blanche to search the car. The constitutionality of a search will depend on whether it is reasonable to believe the arrestee might access the vehicle at the time of the search or that the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of arrest. In this case, the Court, distinguishing the facts from those of New York v. Belton (1981) 453 U.S. 454, rejected a broad reading of Belton, thereby recognizing the motorist’s privacy interest in his vehicle. Police officers, investigating an anonymous tip that a residence was being used to sell drugs went to the residence and contacted Gant who identified himself. After leaving the residence, the officers ran a records check on Gant and learned that his license had been suspended. Later that evening, five officers returned to the house and arrested two individuals and placed them, handcuffed, in patrol vehicles. Gant drove up in a car, parked it, and exited. The officers called to him and when he was about 10 to 12 feet from the car, arrested him, handcuffed him, and locked him in the back of a patrol car. They then searched his vehicle and discovered a gun and a bag of cocaine in the pocket of a jacket. Referencing Chimel v. California (1969) 392 U.S. 752, and narrowing the application of Belton, supra, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Arizona Supreme Court’s conclusion that the search was unreasonable. Here, there was no realistic possibility that Gant could access the car during the search to gain possession of a weapon or destroy evidence. Because Gant was arrested for the driver’s license violation there was also no reasonable basis for a belief that evidence of the offense would be found in the car.