Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Supreme Court Limits No Warrant Searches

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday sharply limited the power of police to search a suspect's car after making an arrest, acknowledging that the decision changes a rule that law enforcement has relied on for nearly 30 years.

In a decision written by Justice John Paul Stevens, an unusual five-member majority said police may search a vehicle without a warrant only when the suspect could reach for a weapon or try to destroy evidence, or when it is "reasonable to believe" there is evidence in the car supporting the crime at hand.

The justices noted that law enforcement for years has interpreted the court's rulings on warrantless car searches to mean that officers may search the passenger compartment of a vehicle as part of a lawful arrest of a suspect. But Stevens said that was a misreading of the court's decision in New York vs. Belton in 1981.

"Blind adherence to Belton's faulty assumption would authorize myriad unconstitutional searches," Stevens said, adding that the court's tradition of honoring past decisions did not bind it to continue such a view.

Unusual alliance

Stevens was joined by two of his most liberal colleagues — David Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg — and two of his most conservative — Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

The decision overturned a three-year prison sentence for Arizonan Rodney Gant, who had been convicted of cocaine possession. Police found the drug in a search of his car after his arrest for driving with a suspended license. Gant had walked away from his car when he was arrested, and he sat handcuffed a distance away while police searched his vehicle.

"Police could not reasonably have believed either that Gant could have accessed his car at the time of the search or that evidence of the offense for which he was arrested might have been found therein," Stevens wrote.

Justice Samuel Alito Jr., writing for the four dissenters, said the court's insistence that its precedents had been misinterpreted was simply a cover for getting rid of a decision with which it disagreed.

The court's new rules will endanger arresting officers, he said, and "cause the suppression of evidence gathered in many searches carried out in good-faith reliance on well-settled case law."


Anonymous said...

This ruling by the high court is an example of protecting the rights of people from unlawful search.

Anonymous said...