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(May 02, 2008) On April 23, the Supreme Court ruled that police officers did not violate the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures when they made an arrest based on probable cause but prohibited by state law.

Two police officers of the City of Portsmouth, Virginia, stopped a car driven by David Lee Moore. They determined that Moore's license was suspended, and arrested him for the misdemeanor of driving on a suspended license. Under Virginia law, driving on a suspended license is subject to only a citation, rather than arrest. After making the illegal arrest, the police searched Moore and found he was carrying 16 grams of crack cocaine. Moore was charged with possessing cocaine with intent to distribute. Moore filed a pretrial motion to suppress the evidence from the search, arguing that suppression was required by the Fourth Amendment. The trial court denied the motion, and Moore was found guilty. The Virginia Supreme Court reversed the conviction, ruling that since the arrest was illegal under state law, the arrest and the ensuing search violated the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court decided to review the case.

The Supreme Court held that the arrest did not violate the Fourth Amendment, despite its being illegal under state law, because it was based on probable cause. The Court analyzed the question by weighing the degree to which the search or seizure intrudes upon an individual's privacy against the degree to which it is needed for the promotion of legitimate governmental interests. Under this standard, the Court stated, when an officer has probable cause to believe a person committed even a minor crime, an arrest is constitutionally reasonable. The Court said that if state arrest rules were incorporated into federal Fourth Amendment law, constitutional protections would become as complex as the underlying state law, and variable from place to place. The Court also ruled that the search following the arrest was not unconstitutional, because officers may perform searches incident to constitutionally permissible arrests. (Virginia v. Moore, No. 06-1082 (April 23, 2008), available at http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/07pdf/06-1082.pdf.)

Author: Luis Acosta More by this author
Topic: Crime and law enforcement More on this topic
Jurisdiction: United States More about this jurisdiction

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Last updated: 05/02/2008