Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Supreme Court Limits "SIVA" Doctrine

The Supreme Court today in Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. ____ (2009), limited its holding in New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454 (1981), which held in part that officers--in effectuating a valid arrest--may search the passenger compartment of a vehicle in which the suspect was a recent occupant. In Gant, a suspect was arrested for driving with a suspended license, handcuffed, and placed in the back of a squad car before officers "discovered cocaine in the pocket of his jacket on the backseat [of his car]." See Gant, 556 U.S. at 1-2. The Court, via Justice Stevens, held that Belton (if not overruled) no longer "authorize[s] a vehicle search incident to a recent occupant's arrest after the arrestee has been secured and cannot access the interior of the vehicle." Id. at 3-4.

Although the opinion was criticized for a blatant departure from stare decisis, see id. (Alito, J., dissenting) (arguing that, although stare decisis is not an "'inexorable command' . . . constitutional precedent should be followed unless there is a 'special justification' for its abandonment."), Justice Stevens noted in dictum that "[b]lind adherence to [a misreading of Belton] would authorize myriad unconstitutional searches."

For a copy of the opinion, click here. Further, Professor Kerr at Volokh has posted an interesting take on this story as well.


  1. This is really one of those areas of the law that changes every day. What are people who have crim pro exams next week supposed to do!?

  2. Should I now not cite Belton on my exam?


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