Tue Apr 21st, 2009 at 01:52:03 PM EST
In the US system, the 4th amendment is the core protection against unreasonable search and seizure, like all constitutional law it is very dependent upon interpretations. Over the course of the last 40 years, the law has swung away from protecting individual freedoms from unreasonable searches toward giving the officials license to introduce evidence that has been gained from those unreasonable searches.
The 4th amendment received a shot of life from the Supreme Court today. In Belton (453 US 454), the rule was taken that once the police arrest someone in a car they have the right to search the vehicle under the theory that the suspect might grab a weapon from the vehicle, even though he was removed from the vehicle and handcuffed. The Supremes now say that is not what they meant, that the law
authorizes police to search a vehicle incident to a recent occupant's arrest only when the arrestee is unsecured and within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search.
There are exceptions, including the right to search for evidence of the crime the suspect is arrested for that might still be in the car, and inventory searches were undiscussed (on a quick reading), but this is a major change from the current state of the case law, and will require in California that many of the awful cases that our supreme's have decided are overturned.
Interestingly, Scalia, Souter, Thomas and Ginsburg signed on to Stevens written opinion and Alito, Roberts, Kennedy and Bryer (in part) dissented. After a few decades in Criminal Law watching it steadily get worse with the war on drugs being the main enemy of the 4th amendment, there have been a couple of cases which Scalia has been involved with which have begun to swing back the idea that the 4th amendment still has some validity.
I've got to run into court-smiling, real quick, but here is a place to look: http://www.law.cornell.edu/...
This may be a bit obscure for many readers, I'll be back when I can to answer any questions. This is probably the most dramatic improvement in 4th amendment jurisprudence in 20 years.