Search Incident to Arrest – Not a Blanket Exception to the Warrant Requirement

The Incident to Arrest Doctrine

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that a search of the passenger compartment of a vehicle following an arrest is allowed “only if the arrestee is within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search or it is reasonable to believe the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of arrest. When these justifications are absent, a search of an arrestee’s vehicle will be unreasonable unless police obtain a warrant or show that another exception to the warrant requirement applies.”

When can police conduct a search because a person is arrested?

The search incident to arrest can be justified by the suspect’s ability to reach to an area and destroy evidence or reach a weapon. However, once the suspect is handcuffed and moved away from the vehicle, the suspect’s ability to reach evidence or a weapon is eliminated, or at least significantly reduced. The Court has recognized that a search of a vehicle incident to the arrest of a recent occupant may be also justified “when it is reasonable to believe evidence relevant to the crime of arrest might be found in the vehicle.”

Once the arrestee is secured, a search incident to arrest of the involved vehicle is lawful only when there is reason to believe that the vehicle holds evidence of the underlying crime on which the arrest is based. Other search doctrines that may apply to particular cases, depending on their unique facts. Fourth Amendment warrant clause exceptions of consent, probation/parole search, exigent circumstances, vehicle “frisk” for weapons upon appropriate reasonable suspicion, inventory and community caretaking, continue to potentially apply.

What happens if a search is ruled unconstitutional?

Contrary to popular belief, if a search is ruled unconstitutional, this does not result in the automatic dismissal of charges.  If a search violated the 4th Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures, the court will suppress any evidence that was discovered in the violative search. If the prosecution has enough evidence to proceed to trial, without the suppressed evidence, the case will still proceed to trial.  The benefit to litigating and winning a suppression motion, even if it doesn’t result in the dismissal of all charges, is that the prosecution’s case will likely be severely weakened.  Additionally, a prosecutor that was refusing to consider a plea bargain prior to suppression will likely change his or her tune when their evidence has been thrown out of court.  If there is not enough evidence for the prosecutor take the case to trial after the court orders suppression, the case will then be dismissed.

The Good Faith Exception

Evidence that is seized in violation of a defendant’s 4th Amendment rights will not always be suppressed.  The Michigan Supreme Court has found that the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule, frequently applied in federal cases, is valid in Michigan. The purpose of the exclusionary rule is to deter police misconduct.   The court ruled that this purpose would not be furthered by excluding evidence that the police recovered in objective, good-faith reliance on a search warrant. If a court finds that the police acted in “good faith” the court may not rule that the evidence should be suppressed.  Because this can be a close, subjective call by the judge, this is where great criminal defense lawyers have a huge advantage over lesser qualified and skilled attorneys.

Lawyers that Win Search and Seizure Motions in Michigan

The Defense Team with LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. has achieved unprecedented success in challenging illegal searches and seizures in federal and state courts throughout Michigan. When other lawyers are too timid or unaware to effectively challenge unconstitutional police conduct, their clients can be wrongfully convicted and incarcerated.  A great defense lawyer is not afraid to win! If you have a search, seizure, or suppression issue in your case and you would like a free consultation on your case, please do not hesitate to contact LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C.  at (248) 263-6800 or fill out a Request for Assistance Form and an experienced Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney will promptly contact you.