Police need a warrant to search the vehicle of an arrested person even if the arrestee is locked up in a police car and poses no threat to officers, the Supreme Court ruled today. The 5-4 ruling in an Arizona case limits police authority to search a vehicle immediately after an arrest.
Justice John Paul Stevens said for the majority that if the vehicle is not within reach of a suspect who has been removed, police have little reason to rush to a warrantless search. The decision affirms an Arizona Supreme Court ruling in favor of Rodney Gant, who was handcuffed, seated in the back of a patrol car and under police supervision when Tucson officers searched his car. They found cocaine and drug paraphernalia. Writing for four dissenters, Justice Samuel Alito said the ruling “may endanger arresting officers.”