RESPONDENT: Rodney Joseph Gant
LOCATION: 2524 N. Walnut
DOCKET NO.: 07-542
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: Arizona Supreme Court
CITATION: 556 US 332 (2009)
GRANTED: Feb 25, 2008
ARGUED: Oct 07, 2008
DECIDED: Apr 21, 2009
Anthony A. Yang - Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioner
Joseph T. Maziarz - argued the cause for the petitioner
Thomas F. Jacobs - argued the cause for the respondent
Facts of the case
Rodney Gant was apprehended by Arizona state police on an outstanding warrant for driving with a suspended license. After the officers handcuffed Gant and placed him in their squad car, they went on to search his vehicle, discovering a handgun and a plastic bag of cocaine. At trial, Gant asked the judge to suppress the evidence found in his vehicle because the search had been conducted without a warrant in violation of the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures. The judge declined Gant's request, stating that the search was a direct result of Gant's lawful arrest and therefore an exception to the general Fourth Amendment warrant requirement. The court convicted Gant on two counts of cocaine possession.
The Arizona Court of Appeals reversed, holding the search unconstitutional, and the Arizona Supreme Court agreed. The Supreme Court stated that exceptions to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement must be justified by concerns for officer safety or evidence preservation. Because Gant left his vehicle voluntarily, the court explained, the search was not directly linked to the arrest and therefore violated the Fourth Amendment. In seeking certiorari, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard argued that the Arizona Supreme Court's ruling conflicted with the Court's precedent, as well as precedents set forth in various federal and state courts.
Is a search conducted by police officers after handcuffing the defendant and securing the scene a violation of the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures?
Media for Arizona v. GantAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 07, 2008 in Arizona v. Gant
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 21, 2009 in Arizona v. Gant
John G. Roberts, Jr.:
Justice Stevens has our opinion this morning in case 07-542, Arizona versus Gant.
John Paul Stevens:
This case comes to us from the Supreme Court of Arizona.
It raises an important Fourth Amendment issue.
Acting on an anonymous tip that residents in Tucson was being used to sell drugs, two police officers knocked on the front door and asked to speak to the owner.
Respondent Rodney Gant answered the door and after identifying himself stated that he expected the owner to return later.
The officers left the residence and conducted a records check which revealed that Gant's driver's license had been suspended and there was outstanding warrant for his arrest for driving with the -- on a suspended license.
The officers returned to house that evening and recognized Gant when his car entered the driveway.
They arrested him, handcuffed him, and locked him in the backseat of a squad car.
Two officers then searched his car and discovered a bag of cocaine in the pocket of the jacket on the backseat.
After Gant was changed with two drug offenses, he moved to suppress the evidence seized from his car on the ground that the warrantless search was unreasonable because he posed no threat to the officers after he was locked in the back of the patrol car and because he was arrested for a traffic offense for which no evidence could be found in his vehicle.
When asked at the suppression hearing why the search was conducted, Officer Griffith responded, “Because the law says we can do it.”
The Arizona Supreme Court held that the search violated the Fourth Amendment.
For reasons stated at length in an opinion filed with the clerk, we agree with their conclusion and we affirm their judgment. Justice Scalia has filed a concurring opinion.
Justice Alito has filed a dissenting opinion joined in full by the Chief Justice and Justice Kennedy and in part by Justice Breyer.
Justice Breyer has also filed a dissent.