David S. Chase


In April 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court in Arizona v. Gant narrowed the scope of an automobile search incident to arrest. Prior to Gant, officers were permitted to search the entire automobile passenger compartment incident to the arrest of a vehicle occupant for any offense. The Gant Court rejected this broad interpretation and limited officers’ ability to search to two circumstances: (1) when an arrestee is unsecured and within reaching distance of the vehicle or (2) when it is reasonable for officers to believe the vehicle might contain evidence related to the crime of the arrest. The Gant decision raises several new issues including the circumstances required to consider an arrestee secure. Is an arrestee considered unsecure until officers place the arrestee in a police car? Can an arrestee be considered secure if officers do not handcuff the arrestee? How many officers are required to secure an arrestee? What are the relevant factors to consider? Since the Supreme Court decided Gant, numerous lower courts have cited Gant to determine whether officers secured an arrestee prior to an automobile search incident to arrest. This Note examines how lower courts have inconsistently applied the “secure” aspect of the holding. Additionally, this Note offers a test for determining whether officers have secured an arrestee under Gant in order to clarify the inconsistency among lower courts, to ensure that defendants receive equal treatment, and to prevent confusion among law enforcement officials.

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