Supreme Court Limits Car Searches After Arrests

By Harry Kimball,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 21, 2009 6:06 PM CDT
The Supreme Court.   (AP Photo)
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(Newser) – The Supreme Court today put new limits on police officers' ability to search a car after an arrest, the Washington Post reports. The 5-4 ruling—with an unusual grouping of justices—says police need a warrant unless certain criteria apply, a break from the standard practice of about 30 years. The court laid out some exceptions, including when police think the vehicle has evidence related to the arrest, but blanket searches after routine traffic stops are likely done.

“Blind adherence to Belton's faulty assumption would authorize myriad unconstitutional searches,” wrote John Paul Stevens for the majority, referring to a 1981 decision giving blanket search authority to police. He was joined by justices Souter, Ginsburg, Scalia, and Thomas. The decision "is virtually certain to confuse law enforcement officers and judges for some time to come," said Justice Alito in dissent.