Thursday, July 21, 2011

Pre-Gant Law Governs Pre-Gant Searches



In United States v. Peoples, No. 09--2507 (6th Cir. July 20, 2011) (unpublished), the panel of Judges Gibbons, White, and Oliver (N.D. Ohio), addressed a pre-Gant vehicle search.



Sole question for the Court was "whether an officer’s objectively reasonable reliance upon binding appellate-court precedent constitutes an exception to the exclusionary rule under the Fourth Amendment." Court found that it does.


In Gant, the Supreme Court held that an automobile search incident to arrest is constitutional only if the arrestee can reach the vehicle or if the officers have reason to believe the vehicle contains evidence relevant to the crime of arrest.


In Davis, the Supreme Court resolved the dispute among the circuits as to whether the exclusionary rule, as clarified in Gant, should apply in cases in which the arrest occurred before the Gant decision. Supreme Court held that the exclusionary did not apply in such circumstances: “when the police conduct a search in objectively reasonable reliance on binding appellate precedent, the exclusionary rule does not apply.”


Finding itself bound by this precedent, the Sixth Circuit concluded that the firearm that was seized incident to the defendant's arrest should not have been suppressed. While the search would no longer be permissible under Gant (the defendant was not within reaching distance of the vehicle when the officers searched the vehicle, and the officers had no reason to believe the vehicle contained evidence related to a suspended license), the search was permitted under the law as it stood when the search occurred.


The Court closed, "The officers committed no misconduct in relying upon th[e] settled precedent, and suppression of the firearm is not warranted."

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