This is a big step back in the right direction, and will do a lot to eliminate "pretext arrests" for minor traffic offenses.

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009 3:51 pm | Kristina Moore |

Dividing 5-4, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that police may conduct a warrantless vehicle search incident to an arrest only if the arrestee is within reaching distance of the vehicle or the officers have reasonable belief that “evidence of the offense of arrest might be found in the vehicle.”

The decision in Arizona v. Gant (07-542) limits the rule established in New York v. Belton, in which the Court held that “when a policeman has made a lawful custodial arrest of the occupant of an automobile, he may, as a contemporaneous incident to that arrest, search the passenger compartment.” The Court affirmed the Arizona Supreme Court ruling for the defendant, Rodney Gant, on whom police found cocaine during an arrest for driving with a suspended license. The state court held that Gant could not have reached his car during the search and posed no safety threat to the officers, making a vehicle search unreasonable under the “reaching-distance rule” of Chimel v. California, as applied to Belton.