RESPONDENT: David Lee Moore
LOCATION: U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay
DOCKET NO.: 06-1082
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of Virginia
CITATION: 553 US 164 (2008)
GRANTED: Sep 25, 2007
ARGUED: Jan 14, 2008
DECIDED: Apr 23, 2008
Michael R. Dreeben - on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the Petitioner
Stephen B. McCullough -
Thomas C. Goldstein - on behalf of the Respondent
Facts of the case
Virginia police stopped David Lee Moore after receiving a radio call alerting them that he was driving on a suspended license. State law specified the procedure for punishing that infraction: issuance of a citation and summons to appear in court. The officers instead decided to arrest Moore. After reading Moore his Miranda rights, they asked for and received consent to search his hotel room. Once they arrived at the room, they decided to search his person and discovered sixteen grams of crack cocaine. Moore was then charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.
At trial court, Moore's attorney sought to suppress the cocaine evidence, arguing that it was seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The trial court allowed the evidence to be presented and Moore was convicted. On appeal, the Virginia Supreme Court held that the introduction of the cocaine evidence at trial was unconstitutional.
Does the Fourth Amendment require the suppression of evidence obtained incident to an arrest when the arrest violates a
provision of state law?
Media for Virginia v. MooreAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 14, 2008 in Virginia v. Moore
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 23, 2008 in Virginia v. Moore
This case is here on writ of certiorari to the Virginia Supreme Court.
In February of 2003, two police officers from the City of Portsmouth, Virginia stopped a car driven by David Lee Moore.
They determined that Moore was driving on a suspended license in violation of Virginia law and placed him under arrest.
Upon searching Moore, they discovered that he was carrying 16 grams of crack cocaine.
As it turned out, the arrest was not authorized under Virginia law, which permits the arrest for driving under a suspended license only in circumstances that were not present in this case.
Moore was charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.
He argued in the trial court that prosecutors should not be permitted to use the evidence from the officers' search, the 16 grams of crack cocaine, because the arrest violated state law.
Now, Virginia law does not ordinarily require the exclusion of evidence seized in violation of state law, but Moore contended that an arrest in violation of state law violated the federal constitution's prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures in the Fourth Amendment, which does require exclusion of the product of the search.
The trial court refused to suppress the evidence and Moore was convicted. Ultimately, however, the Virginia Supreme Court held that the evidence against Moore should have been excluded under the Fourth Amendment and overturned his conviction.
In an opinion filed with the clerk today, we reverse the judgment of the Virginia Supreme Court.
We conclude that when officers have probable cause to believe that a person has committed a crime in their presence the Fourth Amendment permits them to arrest a person and to search him in order to safeguard evidence and ensure their safety.
That is the standard we have set forth in our prior cases and there is no good reason to alter it because the State enacts restrictions on arrest authority that protects its citizen's privacy beyond what the Constitution requires.
We find no historical support for the proposition that the Fourth Amendment incorporates new state arrest restrictions and more fair is no better under the traditional standards of reasonableness that we have applied when the historical record yields no conclusive answer.
We have said in the past that the balancing of government and individual interests is not in doubt when an officer has probable cause to believe that a person committed even a – a very minor crime in the officer's presence.
The Government's interest in such cases are sufficient to make the arrest reasonable.
Other precedents of ours indicate that state's supplemental protections against search and seizure do not alter the constitutional balance.
In other words, a search or seizure maybe constitutionally reasonable even if a State forbids it.
We adhere to this approach today and arrest based on probable cause serves interests that have long been seen as sufficient to justify the seizure.
It ensures that a suspect will appear to answer charges and that he will not continue the crime.
It safeguards evidence and it enables officers to conduct an in-custody investigation.
If a State decides to forego arrest supported by these interests, it does not render such arrest unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment but merely places a high premium on individual privacy than the Fourth Amendment requires.
If we were to conclude that state privacy protection has changed the constitutional calculus, we would often frustrate rather than further state policy.
States could create new – new protections against arrests only if they submitted to federally prescribed penalties for violation of those protections, notably, the one at issue in this case, exclusion of the incriminating evidence derived from the arrest.
As I noted earlier, Virginia law would not impose an exclusionary rule, but the Fourth Amendment would require it to do so.
Some States might conclude that the added privacy protection is not worth the cost.
Incorporating state arrest law into the Fourth Amendment would also deserve the interest in bright-line constitutional rules that we have given great weight to in the – in the Fourth Amendment context.
It would make the amendment's protections as complex and unpredictable as the law of the state in which a particular search or seizure was made and it would make the amendment's protections vary from place to place and time to time.
Since Moore's arrest was constitutional, so also was the attended search.
Officers are entitled to perform searches incident – incident to constitutionally permissible arrests in order to ensure their own safety and to safeguard evidence.
While they may not search an offender whom they have issued a citation and allowed to go free, that rule has no application here.