In many ways, riding in a car is so much worse for you than, say, walking or riding a bike. When I drive, I know I’m not exercising; I can almost feel my muscles convert to fat. Driving burns gasoline, which is bad for the environment. Cars clog roads.
Other than the massive convenience and the ability to privately listen to bad radio, cars don’t have much to recommend them.
Cars are even worse when you realize that driving a car also diminishes your Fourth Amendment rights. If the police have probable cause to think you have some contraband, they normally need a warrant to go in your house. Not so for your car. Because cars can move, the courts don’t require a warrant to search a vehicle – mere probable cause is enough.
If you’re arrested on the street, the police can search, “incident to arrest,” anything you could reasonably be thought to reach while you’re being subdued and arrested. If you’re arrested in a car, the police can search, incident to your arrest, anything inside the car.
In any event, given the law on the Fourth Amendment and vehicle searches, United States v. Rodgers, from the Ninth Circuit, is a breath of fresh air.
Mr. Rodgers was pulled over at 3:30 in the morning on the mean streets of Lakewood, Washington. His registration information showed that his car was one color – his car was, in fact, another. He was in a neighborhood known for crime, specifically juvenile prostitution.
The police officer who pulled him over approached the car. He recognized Mr. Rodgers as someone he’d pulled over before. Many times.
The officer also saw a girl who he estimated was about fifteen years old. He asked Mr. Rodgers why he was driving the girl at 3:30 in the morning. Mr. Rodgers said that he was taking her to an apartment building as a favor.
The officer suspected that Mr. Rodger’s transportation involved a different kind of favor. He asked the girl for identification. She didn’t have any. He asked her name, she gave him one.
The officer ran the name and found that there was an arrest warrant out for the girl. He pulled Mr. Rodgers and the girl out of the car, separately, for questioning. He asked the girl again for identification. She had no purse, and no identification in her pockets.
The officer then decided to search the car, near where the girl was sitting, for her identification.
He searched her seat and the center console. He found crystal meth.
He arrested Mr. Rodgers, then searched the entire car. He found a handgun and other drugs. Mr. Rodgers was charged in federal court with federal gun and drug charges.
He challenged the search of his car, but the district court denied his motion.
He was convicted at a bench trial, and determined to be an armed career criminal under 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1).
The Ninth Circuit reversed, finding that the search violated Mr. Rodger’s rights.
The court of appeals rejected the government’s position that the officer could search Mr. Rodger’s car for the girl’s identification, saying,
[The officer] did not identify any particular facts or observations that led him to believe [the girl] had identification and that it was inside Rodgers’ car. Nor can we find any such facts in the record. There is, for example, no indication that [the officer] saw [the girl] trying to hide anything in the car, that [she] was eyeing anything inside the car, that [she] made any furtive movements, or that any papers or objects appearing to be identification were in plain view. Indeed, the only relevant fact [the officer] offered–that he never saw a purse or bag that might have contained [the girl’s] identification–cuts against a finding of probable cause to search the car.
Because there was no probable cause, or other lawful reason, to search the car for the girl’s identification, the evidence found had to be suppressed. Everything found after that was fruit of the same illegal search.
- CA9: Search of car for passenger’s ID unreasonable (fourthamendment.com)