In a criminal case, when you hear someone talk about their rights being violated, a good deal of the time the right being talked about is the right “to be free from” unfair or unwarranted searches and seizures.  Under the constitution, searches are always supposed to be done with a search warrant. There are a lot of exceptions to this, and it is the police who have to decide whether an exception is available. If they decide wrong, then your rights have been violated.

For the last umpteen years one exception was that the police could search your car if they arrested you for something, even if you were already cuffed and in the back of a patrol vehicle. This has always seemed like a strange exception to me, because the logic behind it was that the police should be able to search to prevent the arrested person from grabbing a weapon or destroying evidence.  How are you going to destroy evidence if you are in the back of a squad car?

Recently the U.S. Supreme Court overturned this rule in a decision called Arizona v. Gant.  Police can no longer search your car “just cuz” when you are placed under arrest.  If they think they have a reason to search, they have to get a warrant, unless some other exception applies. To read more about the Gant decision, read this article from the Arizona Bar magazine, Arizona Attorney.

And remember, never, ever say “Yes” when an officer asks you if it’s okay to search you or your property. When you give consent, you give up your rights.

Chris

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