Police may conduct searches and seize evidence after arrests that sometimes violate state law, says a Supreme Court ruling today reported by the Associated Press. The unanimous decision is in a case from Portsmouth, Va., where detectives seized crack cocaine from a motorist after arresting him for a traffic ticket offense.
“We reaffirm against a novel challenge what we have signaled for half a century,” said Justice Antonin Scalia. 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. The defendant 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 the man and could not lawfully conduct a search.