Joined: 06 Feb 2004
Location: Manchester, UK
Update AmboyMonthly 7 June
The Fourth Amendment hits a hole in the road
|Melody Heller wrote:
|In 1948 the Supreme Court ruled that police were not allowed to search passengers in a car without a reasonable cause. In HENRY v. UNITED STATES, 1959, “The fact that afterwards contraband was discovered is not enough.” In 1978 in the case of MINCEY v. ARIZONA the Court stated that a warrantless search must be "strictly circumscribed by the exigencies which justify its initiation" i.e. must be related to the offense the officer was originally seeking evidence on. In ARIZONA v. HICKS in 1987, it ruled that “plain view” did not include handling objects to locate things such as serial numbers unless related to the original charge. In 1984, UNITED STATES v. KARO, it ruled, "The monitoring of a beeper in a private residence, a location not opened to visual surveillance, violates the Fourth Amendment rights of those who have a justifiable interest in the privacy of the residence." Even as late as 1998 the Court stated that a full car search was illegal if the reason for the stop was due to a traffic offense, and not for other suspicious activity. That case was KNOWLES V. IOWA, and the ruling was based on the fact that further evidence of speeding would not be found by searching the suspect’s car.
However, in 1998 the Court also took actions wich erroded that same right. The Supreme Court ruled that when police are searching for criminal evidence against a driver, they may also search the personal belongings of passengers, but not conduct a “pat down” of persons in the car to look for evidence that may be in pockets or clothing. During a routine traffic stop the police saw a syringe in the pocket of the driver, who then admitted to taking drugs. The police then asked to passengers to leave the vehicle. They found contraban in the purse of one of the vehicles occupants that was left inside the car. In 2003 the guarantee of the right was further erroded when a 1999 case from Baltimore came before the Judges. Donte Partlow was stopped for speeding and when he opend the glove compartment to get the car’s registration the police saw a large sum of money, and searched the car. The Court upheld the right of the police to arrest everyone in the car when they found contraban in the back seat, when none of the passengers or the driver admitted being the owner of the contraban. On May 24, 2004, the Court ruled in THORNTON v. UNITED STATES, that the arresting officer could search the car under rules set forth in NEW YORK v. BELTON, i.e. the officer was permitted to search an occupied vehicle in order to prevent the suspect from gaining possesion of any weapons in the vehicle to resist arrest. In this case, Thornton had alread left the vehicle and was walking away from it.
There are more challenges to the Fourth amendment on the horizon. In April 2004 the Court agreed to hear ILLINOIS v. CABALLES, a case where the driver of the car refused to consent to a search of his car during a minor traffic stop in which he was issued a warning for going 6 miles over the speed limit, and a drug sniffing dog was brought in and found evidence of contraban in the trunk. This case is scheduled to be heard in October 2004.
While some of the cases listed above, the person(s) arrested were guilty of other crimes that only came to light after a car search. The question is, if there is no evidence visible during a routine traffic stop, is it permissible for the officer to search the car just on his personal opinion that the occupants are acting guilty? Will it lead to profiling of the occupant? Will the officer feel justified in conducting a search because an occupant of the car is young, ethnic, dressed richly, dressed poorly, acts fearful due to extreme shyness, is sweating because there is no airconditioning in the car on a hot day? Would your answer be the same if you were pulled over and searched for speeding at 5 miles over the speed limit, and given only a warning, but they find your hunting rifle in the trunk of your car?
Is it the correct thing to do? Is it permissible to search people “looking” for things to arrest them for?
CNN, FindLaw.com, The Miami Herald, The Washington Times and The International Encyclopedia of Justice Studies contributed to this story.
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Mon Jun 07, 2004 9:30 am