A recent Idaho Court of Appeals decision follows recent United States Supreme Court precedent, allowing a search of a car incident to arrest, even if the defendant is in custody at the time of the search, and unable to reach into the vehicle at the time of the search. The Idaho case is State v. Cantrell, decided by Judge Gratton and joined by Judges Lansing and Gutierrez. The facts in the case are fairly simple: driver of a car is stopped for going the wrong way down a one-way street in Boise. As my pal Merris says – "it was dark, he was drunk, and he was driving downtown." Probable cause to stop? Sure. Officers approach and the driver admits he was drinking, has the "glassy" eyes (aren’t all of our eyes glassy) that happen to also be bloodshot, and the "thick" speech. He says he has been drinking and he "knows where this is going." Failed gaze nystagmus added to the equation equals arrest for driving while intoxicated (DUI). Cuffed and placed into the cruiser, the officers call for a tow and proceed with a search incident to arrest. Under the seat they find some marijuana and read the defendant his rights. Does he remain silent?
NOT ON YOUR LIFE – but that is the usual way of doing business. He admits that the pot is his and a bong will be found in the trunk. The officers find the bong, and a duffel bag loaded with mary-jane. He is charged with trafficking – for which there are mandatory minimum sentences in Idaho.
The district court denied the motion to suppress the evidence because it was either incident to arrest or because of the inevitable discovery exception. On appeal the question is whether that ruling stands in view of the United States Supreme Court decision in Arizona v. Gant, where the Court held that the automobile exception to the warrant requirement authorizes police to search a vehicle incident to a recent occupant’s arrest only when the arrestee is unsecured and within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search, OR when it is "reasonable to believe evidence relevant to the crime of arrest might be found in the vehicle.‟
The Idaho Court of Appeals finds that the search of Cantrell’s vehicle is permitted here because it was reasonable for officers to believe that evidence of the DUI might be found in the car. The search is good, conviction stands.
So what do we learn from this case?
First – when you drink, do not drive. It really is that simple; isn’t it? If Cantrell had not been drinking and driving the wrong way down a one-way street, he and his pot would not have been found that night.
Second – stop trafficking in marijuana. I know it is legal in California, but this is Idaho. Stop already. Prison is not that interesting as you will discover if you are convicted of trafficking. Mandatory sentences mean mandatory time in the can.
Third – when they say you don’t have to talk; don’t. Silence is a good thing, especially if you have been violating the law. The police do not need your help to convict you. In fairness, they likely would have gotten to the same place even if Cantrell had remained silent. But that just takes us back to points one and two.
Finally – we learn that although a warrantless search of your car is per-se unreasonable, and arguably a constitutional violation if you could reach into the car at the time it is searched, or if the police believe you may have left evidence of your crimes in that rig, they get to search without a warrant.