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Supreme Court car search decision a victory for privacy rights

I was recently the victim of an illegal police search of my vehicle and seizure of my personal papers and effects, so Mr. Lacey’s earlier post on the US Supreme Court’s recent decision in an illegal police car search demands response.(for Lacey’s post, see: http://blog.nj.com/njv_guest_blog/2009/05/car_search_and_seizure_supreme.html

Mr. Lacey failed to provide readers with an understanding of the Constitutionally protected liberty and privacy interests at stake. He omitted the core of what the Court actually said and it’s supporting rationale. He also failed to note the context, e.g. that a conservative court wrote the opinion.
Below are excerpts of what the court actually said, with a link for readers to read it for themselves:

The court found that police can not “rummage at will”:

“… the State seriously undervalues the privacy interests at stake. Although we have recognized that a motorist’s privacy interest in his vehicle is less substantial than in his home, see New York v. Class, 475 U. S. 106, 112- 113 (1986), the former interest is nevertheless important and deserving of constitutional protection, see Knowles, 525 U. S., at 117. It is particularly significant that Belton searches authorize police officers to search not just the passenger compartment but every purse, briefcase, or other container within that space. A rule that gives police the power to conduct such a search whenever an individual is caught committing a traffic offense, when there is no basis for believing evidence of the offense might be found in the vehicle, creates a serious and recurring threat to the privacy of countless individuals. Indeed, the character of that threat implicates the central concern underlying the Fourth Amendment–the concern about giving police officers unbridled discretion to rummage at will among a person’s private effects.5″

The court found that police safety is not jeopardized and that police don’t even need these invasive powers:

“Contrary to the State’s suggestion, a broad reading of Belton is also unnecessary to protect law enforcement safety and evidentiary interests. Under our view, Belton and Thornton permit an officer to conduct a vehicle search when an arrestee is within reaching distance of the vehicle or it is reasonable to believe the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of arrest. Other established exceptions to the warrant requirement authorize a vehicle search under additional circumstances when safety or evidentiary concerns demand.”

The Scalia backed opinon (no bleeding heart liberal) concluded that police powers Mr. Lacey supports were “anathema” to 4th amendment privacy protections:

“Construing Belton broadly to allow vehicle searches incident to any arrest would serve no purpose except to provide a police entitlement, and it is anathema to the Fourth Amendment to permit a warrantless search on that basis. For these reasons, we are unpersuaded by the State’s arguments that a broad reading of Belton would meaningfully further law enforcement interests and justify a substantial intrusion on individuals’ privacy.8″

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