Any DUI criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles County will be the first to tell you that the police have been permitted to search the passenger compartment of vehicles and the Supreme Court has allowed it when an inhabitant of a vehicle was arrested. This began when New York v. Belton in 1981 began the searches that were termed “incident to arrest.” This was begun as a protective method in case there was a hidden weapon in the vehicle the suspect might try to harm officers with. This lead to police becoming comfortable with searching vehicles and using safety as a reason even when the suspect had already been placed in custody. This allows police to make more arrests doing more searches while there is no safety issue.
This will now change since the Supreme Court ruled vehicle searches are legal only when the suspect has access to the vehicle or when the vehicle contains evidence related to the arrest in their ruling of Arizona v. Grant. To justify a vehicle search police will not be required to have a provable reason for the search and are no longer allowed to search a vehicle at random. This will change the unwarranted vehicle searches under the 4th Amendment and puts back some faith and justice.
There has been concern for some time over the capacity of police making arrests for minor offenses in order to avoid a refusal by the citizen to give consent to a vehicle search. One of the concerns is that there are certain states where a traffic violation can result in an arrest and police may do this rather than write a ticket, to have a right to search the vehicle. The Supreme Court ruling in Arizona v. Grant now creates a complication in kinds of arrests. This is because a moving violation will mean there is no evidence in the vehicle and that will give the motorist protection when they implement their 4th Amendment rights when stopped for a traffic violation.
This ruling is significant since it will affect all police officers on the street that has been trained to do vehicle searches after making an arrest. The Supreme Court sent a message to the police forces in up holding the 4th Amendment rights. Police officers will have to change the policy on vehicle searches and protect the individual rights of the occupants in a vehicle.