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Search & Seizure Commentary
By Timothy H. Everett
Arizona v. Gant: The End of the Belton Rule as We Knew It
On April 21, 2009, in Arizona v. Gant,1 a split (5-4) Supreme Court held that the broad rule of New York v. Belton,2 justifying the warrantless search of a car incident to the arrest of a recent occupant for any offense, finds no support in the reasonableness clause of the Fourth Amendment, given that a custodial arrest removes any genuine concern that the arrestee will escape and obtain a weapon from the car or destroy evidence in the car. The case marks a stark departure from what the Belton rule had come to represent — a police entitlement to search in the absence of genuine concern for their safety or the preservation of evidence. The Gant majority rejected the prevalent view that Belton held that the search incident to arrest exception to the warrant requirement authorizes police to search the passenger compartment of a car even after the arrestee is in the custody and under the control of the police. In reaching that conclu
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