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Author: Street Cop Training

Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332 (2009)

certiorari to the supreme court of arizona

No. 07–542. Argued October 7, 2008—Decided April 21, 2009

Respondent Gant was arrested for driving on a suspended license, handcuffed, and locked in a patrol car before officers searched his car and found cocaine in a jacket pocket. The Arizona trial court denied his motion to suppress the evidence, and he was convicted of drug offenses. Reversing, the State Supreme Court distinguished New York v. Belton, 453 U. S. 454—which held that police may search the passenger compartment of a vehicle and any containers therein as a contemporaneous incident of a recent occupant’s lawful arrest—on the ground that it concerned the scope of a search incident to arrest but did not answer the question whether officers may conduct such a search once the scene has been secured. Because Chimel v. California, 395 U. S. 752, requires that a search incident to arrest be justified by either the interest in officer safety or the interest in preserving evidence and the circumstances of Gant’s arrest implicated neither of those interests, the State Supreme Court found the search unreasonable.

Held: Police may search the passenger compartment of a vehicle incident to a recent occupant’s arrest only if it is reasonable to believe that the arrestee might access the vehicle at the time of the search or that the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of arrest. Pp. 5–18.

(a) Warrantless searches “are per se unreasonable,” “subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions.” Katz v. United States, 389 U. S. 347, 357. The exception for a search incident to a lawful arrest applies only to the area from within which [an arrestee] might gain possession of a weapon or destructible evidence.” Chimel, 395 U. S., at 763. This Court applied that exception to the automobile context in Belton, the holding of which rested in large part on the assumption that articles inside a vehicle’s passenger compartment are “generally … within ‘the area into which an arrestee might reach.’ ” 453 U. S., at 460. Pp. 5–8.

(b) This Court rejects a broad reading of Belton that would permit a vehicle search incident to a recent occupant’s arrest even if there were no possibility the arrestee could gain access to the vehicle at the time of the search. The safety and evidentiary justifications underlying Chimel’s exception authorize a vehicle search only when there is a reasonable possibility of such access. Although it does not follow from Chimel, circumstances unique to the automobile context also justify a search incident to a lawful arrest when it is “reasonable to believe evidence relevant to the crime of arrest might be found in the vehicle.” Thornton v. United States, 541 U. S. 615, 632 (Scalia, J., concurring in judgment). Neither Chimel’s reaching-distancerule nor Thornton’s allowance for evidentiary searches authorized the search in this case. In contrast to Belton, which involved a single officer confronted with four unsecured arrestees, five officers handcuffed and secured Gant and the two other suspects in separate patrol cars before the search began. Gant clearly could not have accessed his car at the time of the search. An evidentiary basis for the search was also lacking. Belton and Thornton were both arrested for drug offenses, but Gant was arrested for driving with a suspended license—an offense for which police could not reasonably expect to find evidence in Gant’s car. Cf. Knowles v. Iowa, 525 U. S. 113, 118. The search in this case was therefore unreasonable. Pp. 8–11.

(c) This Court is unpersuaded by the State’s argument that its expansive reading of Belton correctly balances law enforcement interests with an arrestee’s limited privacy interest in his vehicle. The State seriously undervalues the privacy interests at stake, and it exaggerates both the clarity provided by a broad reading of Belton and its importance to law enforcement interests. A narrow reading of Belton and Thornton,together with this Court’s other Fourth Amendment decisions, e.g., Michigan v. Long, 463 U. S. 103, and United States v. Ross, 456 U. S. 798, permit an officer to search a vehicle when safety or evidentiary concerns demand. Pp. 11–14.

(d) Stare decisis does not require adherence to a broad reading of Belton. The experience of the 28 years since Beltonhas shown that the generalization underpinning the broad reading of that decision is unfounded, and blind adherence to its faulty assumption would authorize myriad unconstitutional searches. Pp. 15–18.

216 Ariz. 1, 162 P. 3d 640, affirmed.

Stevens, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Scalia, Souter, Thomas, and Ginsburg, JJ., joined. Scalia, J., filed a concurring opinion. Breyer, J., filed a dissenting opinion. Alito, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Roberts, C. J., and Kennedy, J., joined, and in which Breyer, J., joined except as to Part II–E.

Texas DPS Advises Troopers of Major Consequences for Failing to Meet Waist Circumference Standards 

Everything is bigger in Texas, unless you work for the Texas Department of Public Safety as a Trooper. A fight which started in 2019 over waistline requirements sparked a lawsuit by the Texas DPSOA (Department of Public Safety Officers Association), is back— front and center. The 2019 lawsuit was dismissed after there were no actual penalties administered against troopers who failed to meet the standards.  

Male troopers with waists over 40 inches and female troopers with waists over 35 inches will have to begin a “Fitness Improvement Plan” which is described as a “training initiative to assist in helping individuals attain and/or maintain physical fitness and command presence requirements.”  

According to The Dallas Morning News, 4,000 troopers were tested as of April, 2022. 213 troopers did not meet the waistline requirements— only two out of that 213 actually failed the physical fitness requirements. Let that sink in. 

Back in 2019 Dr. Tim Church, a scientist, who has researched the relationship between waist circumference and health provided the opinion, “the size of your waist does not reflect how physically capable you are or are not. Look at so many athletes they’ll have a large waist but be tremendously capable of doing physical things. If we’re talking about health, it’d be perfectly valid. But if we’re talking about the ability to do a job, absolutely not.”  

Department leaders insist that meeting the waistline requirements is necessary for troopers to have command presence when dealing with the general public. Troopers have until December 1st to meet the waistline requirements— or face the consequences of being denied for promotions, overtime pay, or even face the possibility of being removed from enforcement duties.  

The removal of troopers from enforcement duties will come as a heavy blow to the Texas DPS (Department of Public Safety). the Texas DPS has not only been struggling with recruitment but also with enforcement actions since the implementation of “Operation Lone Star.” With Operation Lone Star, Texas Governor Greg Abbott moved 1,000 DPS personnel to the Texas Mexico border. As of March 04, 2022 Governor Abbott’s website claims the Texas Department of Public Safety along with multiple agencies has recorded an estimated 208,000 migrant apprehensions, along with more than 11,800 criminal charges, including 9,300 felony charges. Governor Abbott also credits the Texas Department of Public Safety with seizing over 269 million lethal doses of fentanyl across the state.  

With numbers like that it’s hard to understand how less troopers conducting enforcement duties would be a good thing for the citizens of Texas. 

Fitness standards are nothing new in the law enforcement profession. 3,998 out of 4,000 Texas DPS troopers demonstrated they are more than capable of meeting the physical standard. What about the 211 troopers that failed the waist measurement while still passing the physical fitness standards? Do you think waistlines matter? Or do you think that at the end of the day all you want is someone physically capable of doing the job they are sworn to do? Let us know in the comments below. 

The links below contain one Texas DPS troopers Fitness Improvement Plan and the other link is an update provided by Governor Greg Abbott about Operation Lone Star.