On August 25, 1999, acting on an anonymous tip that the residence at 2524 North Walnut Avenue was being used to sell drugs Tucson police officers Griffith and Reed knocked on the front door and asked to speak to the owner. Gant answered the door and, after identifying himself stated that he expected the owner to return later. The officers left the residence and conducted a records check, which revealed that Gant’s driver’s license had been suspended and there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest for driving with a suspended license. When the officers returned to the house that evening they found a man near the back of the house and a woman in a car parked in front of it. After a third officer arrived they arrested the man for providing a false name and the woman for possessing drug paraphernalia. Both arrestees were handcuffed and secured in separate patrol cars when Gant arrived. The officers recognized his car as it entered the driveway and Officer Griffith confirmed that Gant was the driver by shining a flashlight into the car as it drove by him. Gant parked at the end of the driveway got out of his car and shut the door. Griffith who was about 30 feet away called to Gant, and they approached each other meeting 10 to 12 feet from Gant’s car. Griffith immediately arrested Gant and handcuffed him. Because the other arrestees were secured in the only patrol cars at the scene Griffith called for backup. When two more officers arrived they locked Gant in the backseat of their vehicle. After Gant had been handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car two officers searched his car One of them found a gun and the other discovered a bag of cocaine in the pocket of a jacket on the backseat. Gant was charged with two offenses possession of a narcotic drug for sale and possession of drug paraphernalia the plastic bag in which the cocaine was found He moved to suppress the evidence seized from his car on the ground that the warrantless search violated the Fourth Amendment Among other things Gant argued that Belton did not authorize the search of his vehicle because he posed no threat to the officers after he was handcuffed in the patrol car and because he was arrested for a traffic offense for which no evidence could be found in his vehicle.
I think that to better prepare for such an inquiry officers should focus on articulating the reasonableness of any such search based on the following facts and circumstances: (1) Distance: The distance between the arrestee and the place to be searched. (2) Restraints: Whether the arrestee was handcuffed or otherwise restrained what kind of Restraints were used and whether the arrestee was handcuffed in the front or back (3) Display of guns or other weapons by officers: Whether the police had weapons drawn or pointed at the arrestee or other suspects (4) Positioning: Whether the police were positioned so as to block the arrestee suspects and bystanders from the area to be searched. (5) Access: The ease of access to the area or container itself to include whether a container is open or closed locked or unlocked. (6) Numbers: The number of officers present versus the number of arrestees, suspects, or bystanders. (7) Arrestee’s conduct: Attempts made by the suspect before during, or after the arrest to access the area to be searched. (8) Reasonable change in circumstances: Do police need to move the arrestee away from a dangerous environment into another private area or can police articulate a legitimate need to retrieve something such as the arrestee’s shoes or clothing?
Searches of a Vehicle Following Arrest of an Occupant or Recent Occupant: Two Potential Justifications Arrestee could access the vehicle Gant held that police might search a vehicle incident to arrest when the arrestee an occupant or recent occupant of the vehicle is unsecured and within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search. The Court noted, It will be the rare case in...
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