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Can a Vehicle be Searched After an Arrest?


Can the Police Search My Vehicle After My Arrest?

This is a common question: “can the police are search an individual’s vehicle following an arrest.”  For example, what if someone is arrested for driving under the influence?  Can a police officer then search the individual’s vehicle as part of the procedure following the arrest.  Or, what about a scenario where an individual is pulled over for a traffic violation and is arrested for an outstanding arrest warrant or a probation violation warrant?  Can the police then search then individual’s vehicle?  The answer is oftentimes, maybe. 

In 2009, the United States Supreme Court published a very useful and important opinion in Arizona v. Gant.  In Gant, the defendant/arrested driver was charged with driving on a suspended driver’s license.  Gant was not pulled over, but police officers watched him park a vehicle at a residence, get out and walk about thirty feet away from the vehicle.  The officers were aware Gant’s license was suspended and then arrested him when he was about thirty feet away from the his vehicle.  Gant was then placed in the backseat of a patrol car and the vehicle Gant was driving, at the time he arrived at the residence, was searched.  Thus, a search incident to an arrest was performed.  Narcotics and drug paraphernalia were found and Gant was charged with the criminal offenses. 

A search incident to an arrest is performed following an arrest and permits a search of the arrested individual’s person and the area within which that person might gain possession of a weapon or might destroy or hide evidence. 

After a thorough analysis of the authority of a police officer to perform a search incident to an arrest (the search following the arrest), the United States Supreme Court held that police may search a vehicle incident to a recent vehicle occupant’s arrest only if the arrestee is within reaching distance of the passenger compartment of the vehicle at the time of the search or it is reasonable to believe the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of the arrest.  If these types of justifications do not exist, a search of an arrestee’s vehicle may be unreasonable unless police obtain a warrant or show an exception to a warrant requirement applies. 

Tommy Santel is a co-founding partner of Santel | Garner. Tommy is a former government prosecutor. He is a Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31 General Civil Mediator. Tommy’s practice areas include criminal defense and civil litigation.

This blog is made available by Santel | Garner for educational purposes only as well as to provide general information and a general overview of the law, not provide specific legal advice. By using this blog and website, you understand that there is no attorney-client relationship between you and Santel | Garner . This blog and website should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state.