O Prof. Farlei Martins da Ucam e doutorando de direito da puc-rio envia a seguinte notícia
The New York Times
April 22, 2009
Supreme Court Cuts Back Officers’ Searches of Vehicles
By ADAM LIPTAK
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday significantly cut back the ability
of the police to search the cars of people they arrest.
Police officers have for a generation understood themselves to be free to
search vehicles based on nothing more than the fact that they had just
arrested an occupant. That principle, Justice John Paul Stevens acknowledged
in his majority opinion, “has been widely taught in police academies” and
“law enforcement officers have relied on the rule in conducting vehicle
searches during the past 28 years.”
The majority replaced that bright-line rule with a more nuanced one, and law
enforcement officials greeted it with dismay. “It’s just terrible,” William
J. Johnson, the executive director of the National Association of Police
Organizations, said of the decision. “It’s certainly going to result in less
drug and weapons cases being made.”
In a dissent, four justices said the majority had effectively overruled an
important and straightforward Fourth Amendment precedent established by the
court in a 1981 decision, New York v. Belton.
Justice Stevens denied that. The precedent of Belton had often been applied
too broadly, he said. Vehicle searches should be allowed only in two
situations, he wrote: when the person being arrested is close enough to the
car to reach in, possibly to grab a weapon or tamper with evidence; or when
the arresting officer reasonably believes that the car contains evidence
pertinent to the very crime that prompted the arrest.
In the case decided Tuesday, Rodney J. Gant, an Arizona man, was arrested on
an outstanding warrant for driving with a suspended license. He was
handcuffed in the back of a patrol car while his car was searched.
The police found cocaine and a gun, and Mr. Gant was convicted on drug
charges and sentenced to three years. The Arizona Supreme Court ruled that
the search of Mr. Gant’s car had violated the Fourth Amendment’s ban on
unreasonable searches and suppressed the evidence against him. The United
States Supreme Court affirmed that decision on Tuesday.
Justice Stevens, joined by the unusual alliance of Justices Antonin Scalia,
David H. Souter, Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, said the court had
agreed to hear the case because the conventional view of the Belton decision
had been widely criticized. “The chorus that has called for us to revisit
Belton,” Justice Stevens wrote, “includes courts, scholars and members of
this court who have questioned that decision’s clarity and fidelity to
Fourth Amendment principles.”
Police officers and lower courts, Justice Stevens wrote, had failed to take
adequate account of the two rationales that animated Belton: protecting the
safety of arresting officers and safeguarding evidence of crimes. Those
rationales only make sense, he said, “when the arrestee is unsecured and
within reaching distance” of the car.
At the same time, the majority announced a new justification for a search in
connection with an arrest, one drawing on a 2004 concurrence questioning
Belton from Justice Scalia. Searches of vehicles are permissible, Justice
Stevens said, “when it is reasonable to believe evidence relevant to the
crime of arrest might be found in the vehicle.”
As a practical matter, that means many arrests for traffic offenses will not
by themselves allow police officers to search vehicles. Arrests for other
kinds of crimes, though, may well supply a basis for a search.
The decision, Arizona v. Gant, No. 07-542, was the last to be issued from
among the cases the court heard in its October sitting, and it was marked by
an uneasy compromise that probably explains the delay.
Justice Scalia said he would have overruled Belton outright and substituted
a rule that allowed searches of vehicles in connection with arrests only
where the search seeks evidence of the crime for which the arrest was made
or another one for which there is probable cause. He added that he joined
the majority opinion to avoid a 4-1-4 decision “that leaves the governing
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., joined in full by Chief Justice John G. Roberts
Jr. and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and for the most part by Justice Stephen
G. Breyer, said the broad Belton rule was sensible and easy to apply.
On the other hand, the new rule allowing searches for evidence of the crime
that prompted the arrest, Justice Alito said, “is virtually certain to
confuse law enforcement officers and judges for some time to come.”
And the part of the majority opinion allowing searches only when the person
arrested can reach the car “may endanger arresting officers,” Justice Alito
Mr. Johnson of the police association explained the problem. “The case
creates a temptation,” he said, “for police to leave the occupant of a
vehicle unsecured in the belief that they are now operating within the
Fourth Amendment in terms of being able to search the vehicle.”
Though Justice Stevens did not concede that Tuesday’s decision overruled
Belton, he did say that fidelity to precedent was no reason to allow
constitutional violations to continue.
“Countless individuals guilty of nothing more serious that a traffic
violation,” he wrote, “have had their constitutional right to the security
of their private effects violated” by the broad rule struck down on Tuesday.