Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The GANT Exception

Last year the Supreme Court dealt law enforcement a great blow with its holding in Arizona v. Gant, 129 S.Ct. 1710 (2009).  In Gant, the Court eliminated the automatic search of a vehicle incident to arrest, holding:
A search incident to arrest is unreasonable if it occurs after the person who is arrested has been secured and cannot access the interior of the vehicle.  
The Court, however, did not foreclose all possible searches of a vehicle incident to arrest in those instances when the arrestee is no longer within reach of the vehicle.  The Court provided an exception for "those situations when it is reasonable to believe that evidence related to the offense for which the arrest was made might be found in the vehicle."  It was this exception on which the 11th District Court of Appeals (Eastland) relied to uphold the search of a passenger's purse in Daves v. State.

In Daves, the driver of a vehicle in which Appellant was a passenger was pulled over for running a stop sign.  The police officer noticed the smell of alcohol on his breath and directed that the driver perform a field sobriety test.  Confident in his abilities, the driver made a foolish mistake.
During the ensuing field sobriety tests, the driver, Cody Large, decided to prove to Officer Welch that he was not intoxicated, and he devised his own field sobriety test: he tried to walk on his hands.  As Large was attempting to perform that task, various items began to fall from his pockets.  One of those items was a purple marihuana pipe.
Upon seeing the pipe, the driver was handcuffed and arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia.  After the police officer placed the driver in the back of the squad car, he proceeded to search the vehicle for additional evidence of drug paraphernalia.  The Gant exception!  The officer searched the driver side, the passenger side, including compartments therein, and then searched the passenger's (appellant) purse.  In Appellant's purse, the officer found a small baggie of marijuana.  He also found a baggie of cocaine between the seats.  Appellant (who was the actual owner of the vehicle) was later convicted of possession with intent to distribute 1 gram of cocaine.

In her appeal, Appellant argued that the search violated the 4th Amendment.  Citing, you guessed it, the Gant exception, the 11th Court held that the search of the vehicle, including Appellant's purse, was permissible.