U.S. Supreme Court Gives Police More Authority to Search People


In the recent case of Virginia v. Moore, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the police did not violate the fourth amendment's prohibition against unreasonable search and seizures when they arrested a man in Virginia based upon probable cause but prohibited by Virginia state law.  The Supreme Court also ruled that the police did not violate the fourth amendment when they searched the arrested man and found cocaine.


The following synopsis of Virginia v. Moore can be found at Williamette Law Online:


"In February 2003 David Moore (Moore) was arrested for driving with a suspended license. Upon a search incident to arrest, police found 16 grams of crack cocaine in his vehicle. Moore filed a pre-trial motion to suppress the evidence discovered during the search, claiming the search violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Under Virginia law, driving without a license is generally not an arrestable offense. Moore argued that because state law only authorized police to issue him a citation, the search of his vehicle was incident to citation, which is not allowed under the Fourth Amendment. The trial court denied Moore’s motion and he was convicted after a bench trial. The Virginia Supreme Court eventually reversed the conviction, adopting Moore’s reasoning that the Fourth Amendment does not permit search incident to a citation. The United States Supreme Court (the Court) reversed, upholding the conviction. The Court determined that the founders' did not intend the Fourth Amendment to incorporate state arrest rules. Balancing the invasion of Moore’s privacy with the promotion of legitimate governmental interests, the Court held Moore’s arrest was constitutionally reasonable because the arresting officer had probable cause."


Florida statute section 901.15 governs when the police may arrest a person without a warrant.  In Florida, it is illegal for the police to physically arrest someone for a misdemeanor crime like trespass or shoplifting unless an officer actually sees the crime occurring.  Prior to Virginia v. Moore being decided, evidence seized as a result of an illegal arrest would have (or at least should have) been suppressed (or thrown out of court) by a judge here in Florida.  However, based upon the Supreme Court's ruling in Virginia v. Moore, it appears that that is no longer true.

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